Vacation in October | Disney Celebration

I love my mother-daughter trips and who doesn’t love a trip to Disney? Earlier in the summer, my daughter and I discussed options for a vacation getaway to celebrate her milestone birthday in mid-October. Our starting point would be Phoenix, Arizona considering that’s where she lives and where Al and I spend our winters.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge the Millenium Falcon
Disneyland – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Phoenix, AZ is conveniently located

Our choices were many … from scenic tourist towns, to national parks, and everything in-between. Ashton and I always have a great time setting off on one of our adventures, and since this was her 30th birthday (Oh my gosh, when and how did that happen? Seriously, am I old enough to have a thirty-year-old daughter ūüėŹ), we definitely wanted to do something special and fun. One of our best vacation trips to date was our camping adventure to Zion National Park and we haven’t been able to top that trip … just yet anyway, but she and I still have a lot more traveling to do together.

After several lengthy discussions, Ashton finally decided she wanted to go to Disneyland in California to celebrate her birthday. 1. She wanted to visit it while it was all decked out in Halloween decor throughout the month of October, and 2. She wanted to visit Disney’s newest attraction; Star Wars – Galaxy’s Edge.

Disneyland Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

What is Galaxy’s Edge all about?

This is an excerpt from the official Disneyland website …

Star Wars: Galaxy‚Äôs Edge will feature 2 signature attractions‚ÄĒMillennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, opening January 2020.

At Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Guests will climb into the cockpit of ‚Äúthe fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy‚ÄĚ for their own Star Wars adventures.

disney play app at Star Wars Galaxy's Edge
Ashton had fun with the Disney Play App

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge takes Guests to the planet Batuu, a destination along the galaxy’s Outer Rim on the frontier of Wild Space. Batuu is home to Black Spire Outpost, an infamous port for smugglers, traders, and adventurers who wish to avoid any unnecessary entanglements with the First Order.

Soon after you arrive, the Play Disney Parks app will transform into your Star Wars: Datapad! From translating galactic languages and hacking into droids to unscrambling transmission and scanning objects for precious cargo, it’s an interactive adventure that will enhance your Star Wars story… and guide you deeper and deeper into this all-new land!

My daughter became very engaged with the Disney Play app, keeping us in Galaxy’s Edge longer than we intended. The app adds a whole new experience for guests that gamers will love. Me? I didn’t care about the app, but I loved being immersed in what felt like another country or another realm.

Millennium Falcon at Galaxy’s Edge

Anyone who enjoys gaming is going to absolutely love the Millennium Falcon ride. It’s an interactive motion machine ride on a smuggling mission. There are Six players per ship; 2 pilots, 2 gunners, 2 engineers. The pilot on the right is in charge of the booster and up and down movement of the Millennium Falcon. The pilot on the left is responsible for the left and right movement. Gunners shoot threats while the engineers pick up supplies. At the end of the mission, guests are given a score.

Ashton and I were pilots both times we rode the ride, and then she was an engineer when she rode again midday as a single rider. I’m not a gamer and thus didn’t perform my duties very well. I was the pilot on the left and responsible for the left and right actions. I also had to hit another button from time to time which I don’t remember what its purpose was. I do remember us crashing into a lot of things that didn’t bode well for us to collect points. (hangs head with embarrassment ūüėĒ)

According to my daughter, I repeatedly said, “Oh sh*t” … a lot. Oops, sorry to the mom and her ten-year-old boy playing engineers at the rear of the aircraft. The two gunners behind me (middle-aged guys) were laughing. I guess I was really engaged in the ride and my actions not only entertained my daughter but the other guests as well. Glad I could make Ashton laugh on her birthday! Did I already mention, gaming is not my thang?

Disneyland Millennium Falcon Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

Tips: We rode Millennium Falcon first thing in the morning and again later that night, right before fireworks, and stood in line less than 30 minutes each time. During the middle of the day, lines were as long as 2 hours. During that time, my daughter stood in the line for a ‘single’ player and again waited less than 30 minutes. For those wanting to bypass the long lines, think about riding as a ‘single-player’, BUT do note, you will NOT be riding with your friends. Since each ride requires 6 guests, for those odd-numbered parties, individuals are then pulled from the ‘single guest line’ to fill the aircraft.

Build your own Lightsaber or Droid

Got any extra money burning a hole in your pocket? Think about building your own Lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop or a less expensive option would be building your own astromech droid unit¬†at the Droid Depot. We all need those useful items around our homes, don’t we? Since Ashton and I didn’t have any extra dollars to spend or the extra space to store those items, we took a pass on building a Lightsaber or Droid and opted to purchase a few T-shirts and Mickey Mouse ears instead … ya know, useful stuff! Mickey Mouse ears with Maleficent horns anyone?

Chewbacca at Disneyland

My daughter and I had a wonderful time hanging around Galaxy’s Edge. In true Disney fashion, you are transported to another realm … another land. The architecture and details are amazing and every cast member, including the cleaning crew and shop cashiers, remained “in character”.

Worth noting: Galaxy’s Edge has an actual water bottle filling station which was very convenient but also entertaining. We loved filling our water bottles here.

If you decide to interact with the Play Disney app, I highly recommend you bring along an external battery to charge your phone because the play app will use up a lot of battery power and finding an outlet in the park is not easy. If you do find an outlet, it’ll already be in use. The so-called ‘charging station’ noted on the Disney map is actually a vending machine with an external power battery for $30.

shopping in Disneyland
Of course, we had to do a little shopping.

Disney in October

Moving onto the rest of Disneyland, my daughter fell in love with the decor. She loves Halloween and considering her birthday is in October, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. I have to agree, Disneyland was rather festive decked out with pumpkins and non-gory Halloween decorations. I’m not a fan of the gory Halloween stuff, so this was right up my alley. After all, what’s not to love about Disney characters carved out of pumpkins? (Or rather, simulated pumpkins ūüėŹ)

 

Disney California Adventures

On day two of our mother-daughter weekend vacation getaway, we visited Disney’s California Adventures. This was my first time ever visiting Disneyland in California. I’ve always gone to Disney World in Florida. I would compare CA Adventures to Disney World’s MGM Studio’s. We spent an entire day in the park, but depending on crowds, I’d say a full day in this park probably isn’t necessary.

Mexican Hat
Mexican Hat

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this park was the landscapes that Disney replicated. Around every corner, I immediately knew the actual location that California Adventures was emulating. Been there, done that, and even bought the T-shirt! (Y’all know, I struggle with a T-shirt addiction ūü§ó). It reiterated to me, how fortunate Al and I are to have visited so many beautiful places over these past seven years of RVing.

Once again, Disney does not disappoint when it comes to the details. I have so much respect and admiration for all the folks working behind the scenes at Disney … from the creative vision to the impeccable craftsmanship … you really do feel transported. And the cast members working with the public day in and day out are incredible people. Not one employee throughout our whole Disney vacation seemed like they were having a bad day. Whatever they get paid, it’s not enough. Truly talented and amazing people!

Favorite rides

  • eating a large chocolate chip cookie at CA adventuresMillennium Falcon – Galaxy’s Edge. Note – Star Tours in Tomorrowland is somewhat similar but not interactive.
  • Splash Mountain – Critter Country. Always entertaining and scream-worthy at the end.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – OK, who doesn’t love this ride?
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Matterhorn Bobsleds– I’ve always loved roller-coasters, but as I’ve gotten older, they don’t seem to agree with me like they used to. I still enjoyed Big Thunder and Matterhorn but Space Mountain made me dizzy. Ashton loved all three coasters, but the Incredicoaster made her a little dizzy… I took a pass on that one!
  • Radiator Springs Racers – CA Adventures Cars Land. Of course, we loved riding in a sports car and then racing against another sports car among the scenic red rocks of the desert southwest. What’s not to like?
  • Soarin’ Around the World– CA Adventures Grizzly Peak. This was my favorite ride of the weekend. This ride simulates an airborne hang-gliding flight over the wonders of the world. You‚Äôll fly over polar bears in icy Greenland, swoop past sailboats on Australia‚Äôs Sydney Harbour, weave between elephants marching toward Mount Kilimanjaro, and more. The additions of wind and various scents wafting in the air like grasses and jasmine make this ride a unique experience.
  • Grizzly River Run – CA Adventures. I really enjoyed this part of the park and how it emulated Yellowstone National Park. We didn’t actually ride this attraction due to not wanting to get wet, but Ashton has ridden it in the past and loved it. I enjoyed watching the ride and next time I’ll bring a rain poncho¬†and give it a go.
Grizzly River Run Disneyland California
Grizzly River Run

Where and what we ate while on our Disney vacation?

First off, we each brought a small lightweight daypack filled with our water bottles and snacks so we could keep the dining out to a minimum. I highly recommend doing this considering food and drinks can get rather expensive throughout the parks.

  • tips for a holiday visit to Disneyland what to eat and where to stayDowntown Disney – Tortilla Jo’s. We enjoyed a couple of margarita’s and an order of Fajitas once we arrived in Anaheim after the long drive from Phoenix. The food and drinks were average.
  • Disneyland – Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland. The specialty burger was excellent, but the fried chicken sandwich was just ok.
  • CA Adventures – Lucky Fortune Cookery; For lunch, I ordered the Szechuan Chicken and my daughter ordered the Beef Bulgogi Wrap. Both our meals were excellent and we would definitely eat here again.
  • But our favorite meal of the whole trip was from the Boudin Bakery. Their Clam Chowder Soup in a sourdough bread bowl was amazing! Although this dairy-free gal could only sample a small amount from my daughter’s bowl, she and I agreed it was some of the best clam chowder we’ve ever tasted, and of course, the bread was excellent. You can even tour the bakery and learn all about San Francisco sourdough bread while you’re there.
  • Treats; Sprinkle’s cupcake, large chocolate chip cookie, and Cake Pops were all just ok, BUT the absolute best thing was the nondairy lemon soft-serve in a cup from the Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats. Seriously, don’t pass this up!

Where we stayed.

Since my daughter has visited Disneyland numerous times, she and her friends like to stay at the Anaheim Majestic Garden Hotel. It’s close to the park, reasonably priced (most of the time), and offers a shuttle to and from Disney which is super convenient. We enjoyed our stay and it worked for our needs.

Celebrating a birthday at Disney's California Adventures

Conclusion:

Ashton and I had a fabulous mother-daughter October vacation weekend celebrating her milestone thirtieth birthday. Although I enjoyed visiting Disneyland in CA, I’ll admit, I’m still partial to Disney World in FL. With that said, when you look at the distance and the convenience for us to be able to drive to Disneyland from Phoenix in less than six hours versus the distance and cost for us to get to Orlando, I have a feeling a repeat visit to Disneyland won’t be too far in our future.

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How to Plan for a Camping Trip

With our mother/daughter trip already a month in arrears, Ashton and I still haven’t stopped talking about our exciting adventure. ¬†Looking back, I wonder what made this trip such a fun adventure and total success. No doubt, I attribute it to good planning and organization which ultimately lead to a wonderful camping trip experience.zion national park

Our Utah excursion was one of the best trips my daughter and I have ever shared and that’s saying a lot. Let’s face it, it’s no easy feat beating a trip to Disney World. Our Disney vacation and a trip we took to South Dakota a few years ago still rank pretty high on our list of epic excursions, but this trip to Zion National Park may have topped those two previous vacations.

When Ashton and I decided we were long overdue for a gals get away, our scheming began in earnst weeks in advance. So what exactly did we do that helped make our camping trip so successful?how to plan for a camping trip

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OUR TOP 9 TIPS FOR PLANNING A GREAT CAMPING TRIP…..

1. Location & Budget: Where to go on vacation? Ashton and I pulled out the atlas and began searching within a large radius around her home in Phoenix, Arizona. First and foremost, we discussed budget. Our budget was the main reason we decided to drive versus fly and camp versus hotel.

The length of our trip would be five days and four nights. We looked for a scenic location that we could drive to in one day but could also break up the drive if there was a scenic place to stop along the way. Zion National Park fit the criteria for our excursion perfectly.

Once we decided on a national park as the destination, we knew we wanted to tent camp. In my opinion, camping is a much more intimate experience with the environment than staying in a hotel. Camping puts us up close and personal with our surroundings and wildlife. Trust me, I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for the comforts of a hotel room, I just feel closer to nature when I camp, especially in a national park, but I do like mixing it up depending on where my travels take me. Ah, this is why an RV is the best of both worlds ūüė鬆I do love my RV!

Since taking the RV for this particular trip to Zion National Park wasn’t an option, tent camping was the best choice for these two gals and at $20 a night, we easily stayed within our budget.¬†We knew driving and camping would be the biggest bang for our buck.

2. Create check lists.  Our first list included the items needed for camping which obviously encompasses the tent, air mattresses, bedding, flashlights, ax/knives, lighter/matches.

We started a second list of equipment needed for cooking which included the Coleman Stove(s), cookware, plates, utensils, cleaning supplies, towels.

Our third list was for our personal toiletries and clothing. When you’re camping, you need to think about where you’ll be cleaning up and showering. A beach bag and flip flops have served me well over the years in keeping me organized while using a public facility. However, when a campground offers no place to shower, like the South Campground at Zion National Park, there’s nothing better than a package of baby wipes to keep you feeling fresh especially after a long arduous hike. Who knew baby wipes had multiple uses?

how to plan a camping trip
Bring equipment that serves a multi-purpose use. The use of the dish pan soothed my aching feet after the hike to observation point. ¬†Filled with warm water, you could use it for a sponge bath – in the privacy of the tent ūüėČ

When it came to clothing, we focused on bringing items we could layer and made sure we brought rain gear and cold weather gear. Hiking shoes with good traction were also a must. Be sure you have a realistic grasp and understanding of the type of climate and landscape of your location and pack accordingly.

3. Food planning and preparation. ¬†Ashton and I decided we didn’t want to eat out much. Plus, we’d be traveling through some remote countryside while passing by the occasional small town. It was important to us that we be totally self-sufficient, eat healthy, and not rely on trying to find a place to grab something to eat.

how to plan a camping tripWe made a meal plan (another list) and then divided up the grocery list and cooking preparation.

We cooked meals at home weeks in advance (like spaghetti and chili) and then froze these meals. During our trip when it was time to eat, we simply needed to reheat the food at our campsite.

We also pattied out burgers, marinated chicken breasts, then seasoned and individually saran wrapped everything and froze. The morning of travel, we took all the frozen items and placed them in our cooler topped with a bag of ice. Which ever item thawed first, dictated the order in which we ate the meals.

I could do a whole separate post on our meals and snacks. We really did well in our planning and prep. We never felt hungry, we ate healthy, and stayed within our budget.

4. Plan for travel. I’m a huge believer in physical maps. We’ve all heard the horror stories of a GPS leading folks astray. ¬†There’s nothing wrong with using a GPS, but in remote country, it’s always wise to confirm the route with a physical map so you don’t find yourself on a one lane gravel, rutted road in the middle of no where. It happens!

You can’t possibly do too much research or have too much information. Always stay updated on weather and road conditions.

Are there forest fires anywhere near your destination or along your route? How about road closures, landslides, construction? If you have a reservation, call and confirm ahead of time. If you don’t have a reservation what are your chances of finding a campsite or lodging? What are your backup options?

Have a plan A, B and C. When it comes to travel, flexibility is key and things DO go wrong. Never did we think we were going to get snowed on during that first night at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Thank goodness we packed extra blankets. It sure got cold! There was never a mention in the weather report or on radar about the severity of the storm we experienced. I did my homework and things still went askew. But it added to the adventure, thus no complaints.

5. Don’t procrastinate and wait until the last minute to throw things together. Planning ahead of time is crucial. Off in the corner of daughters garage, we started gathering a small pile of camping gear weeks in advance. ¬†We spent time checking and rechecking the equipment. We practiced pitching the tent in the backyard, which made us look like pros at the campground. Yes, we impressed ūüėé

We also made sure all the gear was clean and in good working condition with no missing parts. And in the case of tent stakes and propane bottles, we made sure we had extras.

how to plan for a camping trip
you can see our camp with all our stuff – daughter putting on her makeup

6. Organization – load up. I like using water-tight rubber bins to keep us organized. As long as we’re not in bear country, we can keep the bin with kitchen supplies (pans/plates/utensils/matches) handy on the picnic table. It’ll keep squirrels, mice, and water out. We used another bin for our dry foods but did keep that one in the car at all times.

We used different sized bins determined by the amount of supplies and separated by subject.  BUT before filling the bins, we made sure they, along with the cooler, fit into the back of the Honda CRV.

By having everything organized in one spot in the garage, on the day of travel, it was convenient to load up and hopefully not forget anything. This made life easy for Ashton considering she was loading the car by herself. I was located an hour away.

7. Review essentials – medications and camera gear. A day or two before travel day, make sure you pack medications, check your first aide kit, review your camera gear making sure batteries are charged and you have extra media cards, have emergency contacts written on paper in case cell phones die or won’t work, pack last minute things.

I love this power inverter. We were able to keep things charged. We couldn’t find any outlets at the campground not even in the restroom. Thus, this inverter saved us by keeping our phones and cameras charged.

8. Communicate with loved ones regularly. ¬† In this day of technology, it’s easier than ever to stay connected. Keep your loved ones back home up to date on your where abouts. That way, should something unfortunate occur, your loved ones will have a general idea of your last location. This is also the perfect excuse to take selfies and share, but please don’t overdo and annoy your friends and family stuck back home working.

how to plan a camping trip
Don’t leave loved ones in the dark – let them know where you are and what you’re doing.

I usually texted my husband once in the morning letting him know our general itinerary and again later in the day when we returned to camp. My daughter would do the occasional post to Facebook or Instagram. ¬†When we overnighted at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, we had no cell service but the ranger was kind enough to allow us to use the land line so I could call hubby and let him know where we were spending the night. Thus, we didn’t how to plan for a camping tripdisappear for five days leaving loved ones back home worried.

9. Be flexible. Things happen and may not go according to plan. The weather may not agree on the day you have that epic hike planned. Don’t force the plan, adjust. Maybe a rainstorm is the perfect excuse to visit local stores, or a coffee shop, or brewery. Or spend a little extra time at the visitor center learning about the area. How about a museum?

Remember safety and prevailing on the side of caution should always be paramount. Changing plans at the last minute on a whim or due to unforeseen circumstances, has provided some of my most memorable experiences.

 

So let’s review my top nine tips on how to plan for a great camping trip ….

  1. choose a location and budgettop 9 tips for camping
  2. create check lists
  3. plan meals and do food prep ahead of time
  4. plan the travel and do research
  5. don’t procrastinate and wait until the last minute¬†
  6. organization is key
  7. review essentials and continue to review your check lists
  8. communicate regularly with loved ones back home
  9. be flexible and have a good time

And how’d we do on that budget? Awesome!¬†First,¬†let’s not take into consideration our groceries. Whether on vacation or at home, we still have to eat. So that cost is an everyday expenditure and not associated exclusively with the trip, but I will included the two meals that we did eat out and the stop at the coffee shop at the Zion Lodge. I’m also not including my $80 seasonal national park pass which I had purchased at the Grand Canyon a month earlier.

Five days and four nights cost us just shy of $200 which covered our campsite fees, gasoline, and eating out (2 meals). Ashton and I split the cost making our five day camping trip a whopping $100 per person for the entire trip. Quite the deal, wouldn’t you agree?

So are you ready to get out your camping gear and visit the nearest national park? I know I am and can’t wait to go again!Observation Point Trail Zion

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Pain at the Grand Canyon

It was approaching seven in the morning and the tops of the canyon walls in Zion National Park were starting to light up with sunshine. The winds were gusting causing the tent walls to whip about. The camp stove was sitting on the picnic table, and after several unsuccessful tries at lighting it, Ashton recommends we break camp and stop for coffee and breakfast along the way. That sounded like a fantastic idea…. better than bringing the camp stove into the tent in hopes of blocking that wind.

north rim of the Grand Canyon
Another day, another scenic view!

We quickly broke camp and did a fantastic job battling the excessive winds. We were getting good at this tenting thing and working instinctively well together. We managed to control the thin nylon tent and keep it from taking flight like a kite. We then loaded up Charlotte (Honda CRV) in a neat and organized manner. We still didn’t have a firm plan in mind for the day, but we were living on RV time and rolling with the winds.

Echo Canyon Zion National ParkBefore driving off, we took one more look around the campsite making sure we hadn’t left anything behind. We glanced over at the neighboring campsites…. no movement. Appears our camp comrades were still sound asleep. Fortunately, we had bid farewell to our neighbors the night before over a campfire.

With a nostalgic wave to our new friends and the gorgeous Zion Canyon, we reluctantly drove down the road. The day before, the Mt. Carmel Highway on the east end of Zion National Park had closed due to a landslide which required us to come up with an alternate route.

Recalculating and turning our road trip into a big loop turned out perfectly. We experienced things that we totally would’ve missed out on had we stayed with the original route.

First and foremost on the agenda was breakfast. We ended up driving through the quaint town of Springdale, located just on the outskirts of Zion National Park. For some unknown reason, nothing caught our attention. About thirty minutes later with our tummies growling and cravings for coffee increasing, we pulled into the River Rock Roasting Company. And what a find this was!

River Rock Roasters
Great coffee, great food, great view – River Rock Roasters, La Verkin, Utah

Ashton and I enjoyed the coffee and breakfast bagels so much so, that she and I agreed we’d go out of our way to visit this place again. Was it the view or the fact we were hangry or was it our need for caffeine (coffee addiction satiated) or is this place that good? Didn’t matter to us. We were a couple of happy campers and ready to face the day after our plates and coffee cups were empty.

About an hour or so down the road, we saw a sign noting the mileage to the Grand Canyon. In our typical mother/daughter fashion, we glanced at each other and said, “Hey, we’re this close, might as well stop”.

north rim of the Grand Canyon
Me on the left, Ashton on the right – at the north rim of the Grand Canyon

Turns out the north rim of the Grand Canyon had just opened to tourists a few days earlier. Good timing for us. I’ve driven this stretch of 89A in northern Arizona a couple of times in years past, and Road 67 to the Grand Canyon was always closed. Therefore, a visit to the north rim would be a first for both of us.

Access to the north rim is limited to the summer months, or rather from about mid May until the first serious snow fall which can occur in September or October. The south rim stays open year-round.

We found plenty of parking at the visitor center. As I stepped out of the car, I felt pain … pain all over and immediately used some¬†colorful¬†language. Not one of my finer moments considering I wasn’t setting a good example for my daughter. The car door was still north rimopen which allowed her to hear every inappropriate comment I uttered.

From inside the vehicle, I heard my daughter exclaim, “Mother. What is your problem?” Just then, she exited Charlotte¬†and in our typical mother/daughter fashion, she joined me in voicing colorful expletives…. “Holy sh*t! WTF! OMG!” Thank goodness the parking lot was relatively empty and there wasn’t anyone else within ear shot of us. With each step we took, another expletive escaped our mouths along with a few laughs. Gosh, we hurt!

That eleven mile, strenuous, 2,148 foot elevation gain hike the day before in Zion National Park had finally caught up with us. Ah, the cockiness we expressed just hours earlier had come back to haunt us. We were feeling just fine when we woke up that morning. Guess our muscles just needed a little extra time to process the abuse from the day before.

We slowly and gingerly worked through our pain and walked to the visitor center and picked up a park map. At this point, any sane person would’ve called it a day and returned to their car. Nope! Not us. Let’s do some more hiking!north rim

We were at the north rim of the Grand Canyon which required a little sightseeing and photo taking and the fact that we had trouble walking due to pain was merely an inconvenience. Did I mention how much we hurt?

north rim of the Grand Canyon
“I can take pictures of the Grand Canyon from here”, exclaimed Ashton

When an Adirondack chair presented itself, Ashton didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the situation.

After strolling out to a popular scenic overlook (Angel Point – I think) and a little more photo taking, we enjoyed lunch at the Grand Canyon Lodge cafe. This is when we came to the realization that the thought of setting up the tent later in the day would be a grueling endeavor. Something we didn’t look forward to. We even had doubts that we could physically handle it.

Recalculating! Exuberantly, I said to Ashton, “Dad is in Phoenix spending the weekend with your brother, which means the RV in Prescott is empty. How about we drive all the way to Prescott and sleep in a bed tonight? Let’s forget about the tent.” I barely finished talking when Ashton, rather loudly, exclaimed, “Sold!” Yeah, a few heads in the restaurant turned, but we didn’t care. Neither one of us thought we were capable of the movement necessary to pitch a tent, let alone sleep on the ground. Once we made it to the ground on our air mattresses, we doubted we could get back up. Did I already mention how much we hurt? ūü§£

Lee's Ferry Historic Site
Ashton finds another spot to take a break – historic site at Lee’s Ferry

With our new plan mapped out and a renewed spring in our step, we headed off to our next location –¬†Lee’s Ferry. Even though our original plan to camp here was nixed, I still wanted to stop for a quick visit. It had been nearly twenty years since I last drove by this area and I wanted a refresher.

Colorado River boat tour
Boats return from a tour up river thru Horseshoe Bend and near the base of Glen Canyon Damn

When the boats pulled in after their scenic tour up river, I had an aha moment. So this is where the boats come from as they motor up the Colorado River through Horseshoe Bend and to the bottom of the Glen Canyon Damn for sightseeing.

I remember peering over the cliff edge at the scenic Horseshoe Bend and wondering where the boats down below came from. How does one go about boating this stretch of the Colorado River? Lee’s Ferry is the answer.

Grand Canyon rafting
These are supply boats getting ready to head downstream through some serious whitewater rapids.

Lee’s Ferry is also the starting point for an incredible whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. Ashton and I watched these supply boats getting ready to head down stream. I explained to Ashton …. rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon is a memorable once in life-time kind of adventure. When one signs up for such a trip, all they need to bring are their personal items. Thus, crews are needed to haul all Lee's Ferry historic sitethe supplies, camping gear, and food as well as do all the set up and prepare the meals. These were the boats we were observing – the supply boats and crew.

I’ll admit, I was relieved when I didn’t hear the comment, “Let’s do that for our next adventure“. I’m sure our current state of fatigue accompanied by sore muscles came into play.

It was getting late in the day and as tempting as it was to grab a campsite and call it a day, the thought of pitching a tent had us moving on down the road.

Three and a half hours later, we pulled into the RV park in Prescott Valley and a real bed in my home. It had been a long day of travel, twelve hours to be exact, but we weren’t complaining. We had just completed the best mother/daughter trip to date; a trip filled with amazing scenery and even more amazing memories.

I’m not sure how we’ll ever top this adventure, but we can sure try!prickly pear

A Popular Trail in Zion

When Ashton and I chose Zion National Park as the destination for our road trip, I had only two requests … ¬†stop at the Zion Lodge and¬†hike the trail that was accessed across from the lodge. Other than that, I left it all up to daughter. Sure, I’d offer my input, but ultimately, we’d do and see whatever she would like.Zion National Park

Back in the early to mid nineties, we lived in Las Vegas, Nevada for a few years, and it’s an easy two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas to Zion National Park. While living in Las Vegas, Al and I visited Zion once with the kids in tow and later I revisited with a girlfriend. Both times, I overnighted at the Zion Lodge in one of the rustic cabins. The buildings themselves are unassuming, but the huge green lawn accompanied by a bunch of benches left an indelible impression upon me. A¬†visitor can sit, and admire the soaring canyon walls …

Zion wildlifeAs I sat on one of those benches looking up, I remember feeling awed by the beauty around me. This former flatlander from Illinois was overwhelmed with the unique and stunning landscape.

Today, I was equally awed, if not more so. I’m not sure if it’s my age or the fact that I’m able to travel leisurely on regular basis, but there was a relaxed calmness about me that allowed me to savor the scenery along with each experience and hike I accomplished.Zion National Park

As any parent knows, traveling with small children is a huge distraction which I’m sure had an impact on my first visit to Zion. This go around was different. Instead of me, the mom, constantly concerned about the where abouts and antics of a six-year old and four-year old, my adult daughter was the one in charge and it was her responsibility to keep me (dear old mom) from getting into trouble. No easy task ūüėܬ† This new-found lack of responsibility on my part was oh so fun!

Zion National ParkAfter our Riverside Walk, we took the shuttle bus back down the canyon to the Zion Lodge and bought a couple of lattes at the cafe.

We found a bench near the large grass lawn and sat in silence while sipping our coffee. The last time my daughter and I sat here, she was four years old. Wow, how those twenty-three years seemed to have whizzed by!

Not only was I awed by the majestic landscape surrounding me, I was equally awed by the young lady sitting next to me. What a beautiful, caring and successful person my daughter has become. A mom can’t ask for much more!

With our energy boosted from the caffeinated coffees and a stop at the Zion Lodge checked off my list, it was time for a little more nostalgia. I wasn’t sure which trail hubby and I took with the kids all those years ago, but I was pretty sure the trail head was near the Zion Lodge, which meant it had to be the Emerald Pools Trail. What I do remember as the highlight of that day for our family of four was walking behind a waterfall. Thus, Ashton and I were off in search of that waterfall.

Emerald Pools Trail Zion National Park
Walking behind a waterfall – Emerald Pools Trail

Yep, I found the right trail and memories flooded back. It was every bit as entertaining during this visit as it was all those years ago, even though the amount of water falling was light in comparison.

The Emerald Pools Trail is a collection of short trails that meander past a small, lushly vegetated stream that rolls down from the cliffs and forms several interesting pools. Since the trail head is located across the street from the Zion Lodge making it easily accessible, the Emerald Pools trail is one of the most popular trails in Zion National Park. With that in mind, we weren’t surprised we encountered plenty of other hikers on the trail, but even though we had to share the trail, it was still worth the hike.

Emerald Pools
The beginning of the Emerald Pools trail hike

Emerald Pools

We did the entire hike from the lower pools to the upper pools, which is about 3 miles round trip. The last stretch to the upper pools was the most difficult, partly due to the number of other hikers on the trail and partly because of the elevation gain.

Zion National Park
Interesting scenery along the trail
Emerald Pools
Traffic jam at the upper pools. When they say this trail is popular, they aren’t kidding!

Emerald Pools Trail Zion National Park

This was a lovely hike that we enjoyed, but personally, I liked the super easy Riverside Walk Trail a little more. Not because it was easy (well, maybe) but because it offered open views of the soaring canyon walls, the rushing Virgin River, and of course, those lush hanging gardens. The Emerald Pools trail is more about the waterfalls and pools of water. The trail to the lower pool is rated easy, but as the trail climbs to the middle pool and eventually upper pool, it gets a little more difficult which is why this stretch is considered moderate.

From the Zion Lodge to the Upper Pool there’s a 350 foot elevation gain. It’s about 3 miles round trip. Plan around 2 hours – depending on photo stops.

Next up, we’re in search of more stunning scenery, and we’ll tackle the hike of all hikes … our epic hike ….

Zion National Park
Virgin River – Zion National Park

First stop – Coral Pink Sand Dunes

I love road trips with my daughter. We always manage to find plenty of adventure, and trust me, this recent road trip was filled with lots of laughs, challenges, and new experiences for the both of us.Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

The last time Ashton and I took a road trip she was still in college living in Fort Collins, Colorado. That trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota has always held the fondest of memories for this mother and daughter duo.  We never imagined that we could possibly top that road trip.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Ashton taking a panorama

But oh boy, we topped it indeed.  What an adventure.  One for the books!

sand dune flowersIt all started when Ashton drove up from Phoenix to pick me up in Prescott Valley, Arizona, where Al and I are currently camped with the RV.

She had her new Honda CRV (lovingly named Charlotte) all loaded up with everything we needed for our camping trip.  She and I had been planning and preparing for this trip for the past several weeks, and just like her mom (me), Ashton is well-organized.

Wednesday РMay 17th   After loading my personal belongings into Charlotte along with a few items into the cooler, we hit the road.  As the lunch hour neared, I received a text message from hubby thanking me for the yummy food left in the frig.  Say what?  I had a feeling all along that I was forgetting something. I managed to load the cooler with the freezer items, but totally forgot about the frig; the egg salad, lettuce, and turkey in the RV refrigerator were left behind.  At least Al was a happy camper with a full tummy.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Having traveled this route in Arizona many a time, I knew exactly where we were going to stop for a picnic lunch, or so I thought ….. ¬† The plan was to stop at the famous¬†Horseshoe Bend overlook for some photo-ops and a picnic, but as we neared the turn for the overlook, there was a line of cars and RV’s stretching down the highway waiting to enter the parking lot. ¬†Egad¬†…. no thanks! ¬† And¬†with the food targeted for our lunch left behind, it was time to come up with an alternative plan.

Lake Powell
Lake Powell – A scenic overlook north of Page, Arizona. Perfect stop for lunch.

We continued north on Highway 89 and stopped at the Walmart in the town of Page to pick up some lunch meat and groceries along with a couple of Subway sandwiches.  We then had that picnic lunch at the Lake Powell scenic overlook.  Not a bad plan B, but that weather was not looking good.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

We encountered a steady stream of rain and wind our entire drive from Page, Arizona to Kanab, Utah. It was still drizzling when we arrived at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.  Much to my surprise, the campground was full, but they did have a primitive site for us which turned out to be perfect and gave us views and privacy.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Our primitive site F at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Our previous practice pitching the tent in daughter’s backyard paid off in spades. ¬†We managed to battle the wind and rain like pros and had our shelter up in no time.

tent campingWe held off inflating our air mattresses and brought our camp chairs into the tent.

As the rain pelted the tent and the nylon fabric whipped to and fro by the winds, Ashton and I sat inside our shelter wrapped in a blanket watching the weather pass by.  We were warm, we were dry and we were on an adventure.

Eventually, there was a short reprieve in the weather and we wasted no time getting out to explore the sand dunes.  The poor weather actually served to our benefit.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The Coral Pink Sand Dunes is an off-roader’s paradise. ¬†With 1,200 acres of dunes to explore, the steady roar of engines from ATV’s and dune buggies is to be expected. However, with the poor weather, we practically had the sand dunes to ourselves. There were a few other hikers out and about, but absolutely no OHV’s (off-highway vehicles). We didn’t need to share this amazing scenery with anyone. ¬†How cool was that!Coral Pink Sand Dunes

It was quiet, peaceful, and down right beautiful. ¬†Ashton and I hiked, climbed, and explored the dunes. ¬†There wasn’t a single four-wheeler out on the dunes, allowing us to wander about without concern.¬†What a treat and a privilege to be able to experience this unique landscape in solitude.Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The shutter on our cameras clicked away as we admired the views. We were fascinated by the wildflowers and vegetation. The contrast of colors between the sweeping sand dunes and the mountain backdrop dotted with juniper pines captivated us.  We drank it all in before the second wave of weather began to assault us.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The dunes were dotted with these lovely wildflowers

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Rain turned to sleet and eventually to snow. ¬†The winds were relentless and the temperature continued to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. ¬†For cripes’ sake, this was the middle of May! ¬†For some reason, we found a great deal of humor in our situation and by 8:30 p.m. we were cocooned in our warm sleeping bags atop our four-inch thick inflated air mattresses and laughing. ¬†Yes, we were roughing it. No glamping for these gals…. at least not this time!Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Just two weeks earlier as temperatures in Phoenix were hitting the triple digit range, daughter Ashton, a Colorado gal at heart, decided to take her ice/snow scraper out of her vehicle for the first time ever. ¬†Having grown up in Colorado and traveling regularly to higher elevations, she’s used to encountering inclement, unexpected weather anytime of year.¬†We found the timing of her ice scraper removal just another laughable moment.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
We woke up to an iced over car and ice topped tent …. brrrr – it was cold!

At some point during the night I woke up.  I was a little disoriented and not sure when we had fallen a sleep. Probably in between giggles and story telling while the tent swayed hither and yon.

And now it was calm and quiet.  No more wind or rain.  It had to be about one or two in the morning.  Not wanting to wake Ashton, I slowly unzipped the tent, and although I was shivering from the cold, I was awed beyond words the moment I exited the tent. The sky was incredibly clear and the stars shone brilliantly against the navy blue background.  For a split second I thought about waking Ashton and had it been even slightly warmer, I would have.  What a sight to behold and oh how I wanted to linger and drink in that breathtaking vision, but alas the warmth of the sleeping bag beckoned.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The sand was frozen and felt like we were walking on pavement.

The next morning while we allowed the rising sun to melt the ice on Charlotte, we took another hike across the dunes.  The sand was frozen and reminded us of walking on frozen snow.  It was a very different experience from our hike the day before.

So how did we feel about tenting it in these conditions? ¬†I won’t lie, once it started sleeting the thought of a hotel did cross our minds, but in the end, I’m so glad she and I are both stubborn. ¬†Our experience at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes couldn’t have been any better (well, maybe a tad warmer). ¬†Sure, we were cold, but the weather added another dimension to our overall experience, and fortunately, we maintained our sense of humor which definitely helped.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Frost and snow dotted the landscape that morning

 

And this was just our first stop. ¬†Next up, Zion National Park ….