A few weeks back Hunter had a busy Saturday:

He spent an hour working on the neighbor’s lawn.

He spent two hours working on his grandparent’s lawn.

He spent eight hours dressed as a luchador for our friend’s grand opening of their new Backyard Taco location.

He stood outside the door dressed in a black cape and mask, baking in the sun (108 degrees), greeting those that entered for the private grand opening. He was a sweat ball by the end! He pulled off his mask and his head was soaking wet. But they had such a good time. And they got paid. And they got free shirts. And all the food they could handle. They were in scorching heaven!

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Grand Canyon National Park…

I’m embarrassed to admit that we live just hours from the Grand Canyon and we’ve never taken our kids…until now! Because if we were going to hit Bryce and Zion, it only made sense to add Grand Canyon on our way home. The most popular entrance is the south entrance – it gives you the iconic canyon views you see everywhere. But we opted for the north entrance because it was closer as we made our drive home.

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My hesitation in the past about going to grand canyon with young kids is there’s not a lot you can do. Part of the fun of this area is hiking down into the canyon. With little kids, this wasn’t a good option. So our next best option was to do a couple short hikes to lookout points. Even this was a little stressful with our young kids. There were several areas on the trails with drop offs on both sides and it required holding little ones’ hands to ensure safety.

Although this may be contrary to popular opinion – this stop was a little disappointing. Steve may argue this was his favorite but he would be wrong. 🙂 Hallie walked out and saw the view for the first time and turns to me, “This is it?!” (It didn’t look like what she was expecting.) She took the words right out of my mouth. Yes it is grand and magnificent in scale, but in our eyes it didn’t compare to the last two national parks we had visited. Having said that, Steve and I have spent time in the canyon and it was beautiful! Havasupai Falls is a must see and a trip for another day. However, this was not an exploration trip.

This visit was really just a pit stop so the kids could see it – as they get older we’ll take another opportunity to explore the canyon.

We did some hikes and found a lookout tower that provided some good distance from anyone falling off a ledge!

In all reality, I think they had the most fun in the parking lot/park area where we set up shop to eat lunch and they played and played and played some more. Bikes and frisbees and footballs and hammocks. They were disappointed when it was time to load up the car and make the drive home.

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What’s interesting about this area is you can have magnificent views like this:

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But the drive getting their looks like this:

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I didn’t know how well we had timed our fall visit until we started making the climb up the mountains and these yellow leaves were around every corner. The contrasting blue sky made for a beautiful drive.

And in case you’re wondering – hiking with masks is a dirty business! We didn’t wear them all the time but we wore them in more crowded areas and they were nice and clean by the end!

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Zion National Park…

If you’ve ever been to Bryce National Park – you know that it’s just a short drive from Zion National Park and it would be irresponsible to not visit both!

My love for Zion runs deep – ever since my college days when I spent three summers working at a dude ranch on the east entrance. The one thing I don’t love about Zion is just how busy its become – a stark contrast to the park I became familiar with almost 20 years ago. It is the 4th busiest national park – and a word to the wise – national parks were not set up for “busy”! We were hopeful that with covid…and a downtrend in international visitors…and going on a Thursday in October we would beat some crowds. We purchased our shuttle tickets in advance (a new requirement during covid) and I naively thought this meant we would be good.

When we arrived to board the shuttle, the visitor’s center lot was full. We were then informed that they removed 4 of the shuttles stops so the only location you can get on is at the visitor’s center (another covid change). We drove around for a little bit hoping for a spot to open up and it didn’t. So we drove into the park a little more until we finally found some side of the road parking. But it presented one major problem: It was a mile and a half walk with all our kids to get back to the visitor’s center to board the shuttle. The other option was to drive back out of the park and park in Springdale which also presented a bit of a hike to the visitor’s center (Thanks to shuttle routes being closed). We really wanted to get on the shuttle – its the only way up the canyon – but it wasn’t worth the three mile round trip hike with our children’s little legs.

So we improvised. We drove another mile into the park, found some parking on the side of the road and we started marching the troops into the unknown. There was a pretty defined trail that we followed. And then it turned into back country exploring. We saw a few other hikers that promised the view was worth it if we kept venturing deeper into the canyon.

We hit a shaded spot that offered so many things for our little kids to explore that I figured that would be the end of our journey. Some of the older kids went further to explore and a short while later they came back and insisted we follow them back to the spot they found. It was a little dicey with a four-year-old but he made it without any problems and we landed at a beautiful waterfall surrounded by weeping rocks. The road less traveled paid off!

After our 2 1/2 hour impromptu hike, we drove east through the park and through the tunnel to hike Canyon Overlook. This is a relatively easy hike with a rewarding view. We’ve hiked it as a family before but it’s been a few years; I carried Briggs as a newborn and Steve carried Cannon in a backpack. Hiking has become far more enjoyable now that we don’t have to carry any kids! Although there is a fenced observation point, it has some sketchy areas and we kept the kids on a tight leash while at the top.

After Canyon Overlook, we continued to head east through the park. I was quickly reminded that the east side of the park is not nearly as popular and yet it has so much to offer and we never spend enough time exploring this section. We need to head back just to spend some time at checkerboard mesa or many pools. We ended up driving to Kanab for the night, took a quick dip in the pool and went to a fun park.

At the end of our trip (we were gone for a week and a half) Steve points to this day as one of his favorites. Not because he likes Zion more than anywhere else…But because the flow of the day pushed us a long and it was so enjoyable. Sometimes we feel as though we’re fighting against the flow and its exhausting. And sometimes the flow just takes us on a ride (albeit a ride we didn’t necessarily plan and look forward to) that was far better than we could have planned. For Steve, this was that day. It just worked. It worked without fighting and stress and anxiousness. It was not as we had anticipated, but so much better.

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Bryce National Park…

We had big plans for fall break. We were supposed to be in Washington DC with friends – all 15 of us. I think our plane tickets were changed 4 times since the date we purchased them. In the end, we could get to DC but none of the museums we were interested in seeing were open. So we pulled the plug and made some last minute plans up to Utah.

Part of our time in Utah was spent exploring Bryce Canyon. It had been years since both Steve and I had been there and none of our kids had been. We still have young kids so when this idea was first thrown out I immediately went into research mode making sure there would be things we could do as a family. I’m happy to report that Briggs’ little 4 year old legs walked every step.

We hiked the Navajo loop and Queen’s Garden Trail, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point (really just a look out). The Navajo loop was almost a 3 mile hike with steep switchbacks in the beginning and just as awful switchbacks at the end. (Surprisingly, we did not hear any complaints from the kids on the switchbacks. There may have been some complaining on the parents part due to aching knees hiking down into the hoodoos!) Jolly ranchers candy along the trail made for some happy hikers.

The weather was warm during the day, but manageable. (I can’t imagine visiting this place in the summer time – it has got to be toasty on these hikes without much reprieve from the sun.) The color was a brilliant red/orange and although the horizon was smokey, it didn’t detract from the grandeur. It really is quite unique in its beauty.

Southern Utah is so beautiful with all the red rock – Bryce, Zion, Moab, Canyonlands – and yet each area has such a distinct look and feel. The hoodoos of Bryce (tall pillar-type rock formations) are like nothing you’ll ever see.

With the ages of our kids, we only saw a small portion of the park but our kids would love to go back. Luckily we live close enough that it’s a real possibility we’ll make that happen.

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Love notes…Briggs edition…

Briggs spent some time during COVID watching art for kids hub with the older kids and he really sharpened his drawing skills. He spent a lot of time and made special individualized loves notes for my brother and his family this summer. His excitement was through the roof when he handed these cards out. I selfishly wanted to collect them back after he handed them out! 🙂 Luckily I snapped some pictures before they went out the door.

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