It’s early May and we have THREE days to see TWO National Parks with ONE traveler (namely, me) making do with an injured foot. My partner and I rendezvoused with another couple (my brother and sister-in-law) for three days in St. George, Utah, with a quest to see two outstanding U.S. National Parks–Zion and Bryce Canyon, both in southern Utah.
Our original intention was to hike ’til we dropped, but I recently had an untimely foot injury that kept me from going on THIS incredible backpacking trip in Grand Canyon. With a slowly healing foot (torn or ruptured ligament), I couldn’t expect to hike, but still, there was NO WAY I was going to miss out on seeing Zion and Bryce as planned. As it turns out, natural inspiration and human inspiration abounded on this trip.
BEFORE WE EVEN GOT THERE
Human Inspiration #1: Back From the Dead
My party and I set out on a new revised quest–to experience the visual overload of two of the nation’s “wow-factor” parks while functioning within certain agility limitations. To start the quest, I needed to equip myself with the right tools. I scored a decent walking stick at a souvenir shop (Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post, 1000 W. Hwy 9, Virgin, UT) on the way to Zion National Park.
There I met Dona, a 51-year-old woman working the cashier who shared an inspiring story about herself. She casually mentioned she had died at age 44 from cardiac arrest and lay dead for a full 30 minutes before being revived.
Dona spoke like someone who knew more than most–about life, blessings, and miracles. Her after-life experience was so powerful that she revealed she often wishes she didn’t make it, that life here doesn’t quite “cut it” compared to the peace she experienced when “passing.” Much to her delight, Dona spent time with her grandmother on the “other side” and, much to her dismay, has missed Grandma greatly since.
Still, Dona had a certain strength and conviction about her. A quiet wisdom emerged from her words–something that amounted to: Don’t sweat the small stuff. I felt so moved and humbled to meet Dona, I reached out, shook her hand, and let her know I was happy she was still with us. I felt blessed to meet her. She is one of God’s walking miracles–a reminder for us all to keep it simple, live and love well, and, above all, be grateful. Everything that seems to have value to you can be taken away in an instant.
When I was ready to pay for my items, Dona helped me pick out a badge for my new walking stick (A badge is a nickname for the ‘bling’ sold to dress up, souvenirize–yeah, I know it’s not a real word–and customize your walking sticks). Check out my new badge in the photo.
The image of a wild elk reminds me of Dona and her strength and resolve to keep moving forward with whatever plans God has for her. She doesn’t seem to know exactly where she’s going, what exactly she’s supposed to do, but she has faith that it will all work out. Besides, she already knows how the story ends and is not the least bit frightened about it.
Natural Inspiration #1
Equipped with my newly decorated walking stick and walking orders from my doctor that I should NOT hike anytime in the near future (What a conundrum!), I set out to discover short, easy trails I could hike in Zion. The first happy revelation was that Zion has a terrific shuttle system that takes you across many must-see stops along a shuttle-only roadway. There is no need to hunt and fight for a parking space at Zion or to walk a long way from your car to the starting point of sights and trails at each stop. There are even shuttles running from nearby Springdale into Zion’s South Entrance if Zion’s Visitor Center parking lots are full. This was a huge concern for me, as I couldn’t envision tackling more than a half-mile round trip at any location, including the walk from transportation to trail head.
On the shuttle, a pre-canned tour guide’s voice provides interesting information about the park, but I have to say it was difficult to see clearly through tinted windows and around multiple obstructions in the shuttle bus framework. You must get out at each stop if you intend to see what there is to see. On the very first stop, we got to see this:
Allow 80 or 90 minutes to do the shuttle ride without getting off at any stops, and you will be rewarded with an 8-minute stop at the halfway point in order to stretch and use the restrooms if necessary. For each stop you get off at, add 10 minutes to your tour time for the next shuttle to appear. If you set off on trails for a short or long hike, shuttles conveniently run into late evening, with the last shuttle leaving the entrance visitor center at 7:30 p.m. in order to complete the full circuit by 9 p.m. Plan accordingly. (Note: shuttle schedule changes throughout the year; check links at end of this article for most current information.)
I ventured on two different trails at Zion. Even though I didn’t make it to the intended end point of each trail, I saw plenty to satisfy my senses:
The Tunnel From South and West Zion to Zion’s East Entrance and on to Bryce Canyon
Zion National Park: one of two tunnels connecting the east entrance of the park to the south and west of park.
The shortest and most picturesque drive to Bryce Canyon National Park from points south and west of Zion is through the one-mile-long Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel within Zion National Park near its eastern entrance. Besides the time savings, there are many sights to dazzle your eyes along the way, so it is definitely worth the drive.
Natural Inspiration #2
Like Zion, Bryce Canyon has a shuttle system, but it only goes to a subset (albeit an excellent subset) of sights where cars can also go. One of those stops is Bryce Point. We took our car there and saw amazing rock formations in the valley below the parking area. It was here I felt most frustrated about having a foot injury. This is THE PLACE to hike. Something out of a fantasy movie, hikers moved below like elves among towering hoodoos (a name for the funky formations seemingly dripped like hot candle wax or wet sand into spindly spires.) There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these spires scattered across the valley floor.
We saw this fully loaded bike parked along the fence and all pretty much said the same thing, Man, that bike has BEEN places!
Unlike Zion, Bryce Canyon also has a tour route accessible by car. On a Saturday in early May, we had no problem parking at each of the viewpoints. My favorite short hike was at Farview Point where we were able to hike right next to the tops of hoodoos and other formations, like arches and what looked like a 100-story cathedral organ. The winds were strong that day, and the effect on us at certain points on the trail was high exhilaration.
Human Inspiration #2: How Far Determination Takes You
At Farview Point, we came upon that bike again. This time, we also came upon it’s owner, the human version of amazing–Jeremie Geumetz, a French bicyclist. When I saw his worn, heavily packed bicycle, I had to know his story.
“Hi. Can I ask how many miles you’ve traveled so far?”
“I dunno. 17,000 or 18,000,” he answered in a heavy French accent.
Surprised by the response, my brain dug through and re-processed his French-English. “Thousand?” I asked. “Miles?”
From there on, I had a flood of questions, and Jeremie was all too happy to oblige.
Jeremie lives in France. While we were talking, an older couple overheard and joined the conversation, soon discovering they lived only 20 miles away from him, in Belgium.
Jeremie started his trip in Patagonia, South America. His intention is to bicycle from South America through Central America to northernmost North America where he hopes to reach Alaska (weather permitting) by September. With 17,000 or so miles under his belt, he still has another roughly 4,000 to go.
By now, I’d called the rest of my crew over, “This guy has ridden 17,000 miles!”
“When was the last time you shaved?” one of us asked.
He tugged on his beard seeking our confirmation that he understood the question topic, and when we nodded yes, he said, “Columbia.”
“How long have you been on this trip?” I asked.
“Since November 22nd.”
I began counting aloud the number of months since November, “Wow! That’s a long time.”
“2012,” Jeremie said, correcting my counting.
“What?! And why are you doing this? Any particular reason?”
“Not really. I like to bike. We French like to bike.”
And how! This Frenchman loves to bike and he loves to connect with people. He was gracious with his time and patient with our questions–a true gentleman with a warm spirit and a love for life. We all shook his hand as we parted company and told Jeremie repeatedly what an inspiration he was to us. The power of the human spirit is incredible. It can drive us to press toward the outer limits of our existence, to experience something unique and powerful, something that becomes a part of us as we travel through life.
On the drive back to our hotel that evening, we ran into stormy weather. Wild winds whipped our car from every direction. Tumbleweeds raced alongside us on the highway at 60 mph and wicked lightening continuously lit up the sky. The news reports delivered the adjusted weather report: a violent storm was expected to drop two feet of snow at the higher elevations in our area. By morning, the distant Zion mountains were white-tipped, and we wondered and worried about Jeremie. (This is, by the way, the third time recently that my partner and I encountered unexpected snow on hikes in unlikely locations this year: See Snow in Hawaii: Worth the Trip and check out Little Jimmy Trail Camp: Backpacking ‘Sno(w) Problem Along the PCT)
Luckily, before we parted company, I’d asked Jeremie for contact information. I knew I wanted to write about him. Turns out Jeremie has a website; I am listing it here with his permission: www.2rouesvagabondes.fr
Checking his website for updates, we found out our Frenchman made it through the stormy, snowy night. We also found out he is a talented photographer. Check out his online sites for a dose of inspiration.
All in all, it is possible to see two national parks in just a few days, even with an injured foot. Whatever your condition or situation, it’s definitely worth the trip. Natural inspiration and human inspiration await you. All you have to do is get in a car, on a bike, or on your feet, and open your eyes, your heart, and your soul to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Get outside, folks, and make a point of checking out the U.S. National Parks. They are amazing!
P.S. Stay tuned for our three-week-long National Park road trip in August where we’ll revisit Utah’s Zion and Bryce (this time for some REAL hiking!), as well as Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef in Utah, not to mention Olympic in the state of Washington, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons in Wyoming. We’re traveling in our homemade teardrop trailer (the Silver Bullet) and will bring our 80-pound dog along for the ride. Should be interesting!
LINKS to Zion and Bryce websites:
Zion National Park: http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
Zion Maps & Guide: http://www.nps.gov/zion/parknews/newspaper.htm
Bryce Canyon National Park: http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm
Bryce Canyon Map, Shuttle & Hiking Guide: http://www.nps.gov/brca/parknews/newspaper.htm
Good Eats Nearby:
Ice Cream at Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post, 1000 W. Hwy 9, Virgin, Utah. Omigosh, the BEST homemade ice cream! Unique and delectable flavors. We had the following three and they all were great: Sea Salt Chocolate Caramel Truffle, Orange Cream & Dark Chocolate, and Hog Wild (Brown Sugared Bacon).
Fort Zion Virgin Trading Post is on Facebook as “Virgin Trading Post/FORT ZION”
Bacon-Wrapped Buffalo Meatloaf at Wildcat Willy’s, 897 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, Utah, outside the South entrance to Zion National Park. An L.A. Times recommended dish comes with a generous portion of meatloaf (a tasty blend of Certified Angus Beef grinds and buffalo grinds, peppers, onions and seasonings wrapped with bacon, crusted with roasted garlic and cracked pepper) on a mound of garlic mashed potatoes topped with a sweet onion gravy and crispy onion strings. A surprisingly delicate, buttery side of Al dente julienne vegetables finishes off the plate.
Wildcat Willie’s: http://www.wildcatwillies.com/ordereze/default.aspx
Great Dog Boarding Facility:
Doggie Dude Ranch outside the South entrance to Zion National Park in Rockville (800 E. Main, Hwy 9, Rockville, UT 84763). The owner, Filomena, showed us around her dog boarding facility, a large property running along the length of a stream where she’ll take your dog for a daily waterside walk if you wish. In the summer, the dogs keep cool with overhead water misters or with air conditioning in enclosed structures. Be careful when you visit the grounds. Humans are as likely to enjoy the tranquil location every bit as much as the dogs.
Doggie Dude Ranch: http://www.doggyduderanch.com/