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Travelblog Gone with the Wine

Travelblog and lifestyleblog. Life under the Californian sun - Gone with the Wine. Trips, food and wine from all over the world. Solo and family adventures.

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Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon in Arizona

Paula Gaston

There are so many amazing places to see in Utah and Arizona! We were lucky to be able to visit many of them on our road trip. I hope you saw the pictures from our visit to Antelope Canyon. it should really be on everyone’s bucket list! Even though we really liked both Snow Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah, and hiked to see some Toadstool Hoodoos, Antelope Canyon was the most memorable place by far. But that was not all. Next we headed to Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Maybe you have seen some photos of this horseshoe shaped river in Arizona? Here is what you should know about visiting Horseshoe Bend:

GLEN CANYON DAM AND THE AMAZING VIEWS

When we started to get closer to Glen Canyon, the views started to change. We passed the harbor where you can hop on a boat to get to Rainbow Bridge. Rainbow Bridge is the biggest natural rock arch in the world, and is a National Monument. I was disappointed that we were not able to visit the arch this time, but a whole day in a small boat with the kids didn’t sound like something we wanted to do. Luckily there are plenty of other things to do at Glen Canyon Recreation Area which also belongs to the National Park Service.

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Our first stop was a lookout where you can see the Colorado River. After that we drove to the Visitor Center by the Glen Canyon Dam. Built in 1964, it is the second largest dam in the U.S. after Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam generates power while regulating the water flow of the Colorado River. Since many states battle with drought and the Colorado River runs through many states, it has become an important element when distributing water. However, people are still debating about the environmental affects of the dam, and many think that it should be demolished. You can see the dam really well from the Visitor Center, and it is a great place to stop in many ways. They have great facilities for families (diaper change? no problem), and they are very helpful with the Junior Ranger Program for kids. We also visited their museum and souvenir shop.

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam

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THE BEUATIFUL HORSESHOE BEND IN ARIZONA

The most visited place in Glen Canyon must be Horseshoe Bend which is located in the city of Page. Horseshoe Bend is a spot in the Colorado River where it makes a turn shaped like a horseshoe. It is right at Highway 89 when driving south from Page.

 

In recent years, Horseshoe Bend has become famous due to all the gorgeous photos in social media. The amount of visitors has jumped up. Unfortunately, the amount of deaths has also risen as some tourists take selfies so close to the edge that they fall down into the canyon. A 14 year old girl just fell in during Christmas week. Because of these accidents, they have now opened a new fenced viewing point at Horseshoe Bend where it is safe to look at the canyon. At the same time, they built a new parking lot, and installed some benches and a rest area to the trail heading down to the viewing point. This had all just opened a week before our visit. Now that the new parking lot was in use, they also started collecting a parking fee of $10 per vehicle. We figured we were happy to pay that for the facilities we got.

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The trail to the viewing point and back is about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) long. When you walk back, it is mostly uphill and the sun will make the walk pretty hot, so people were sitting on the benches while catching their breath. So visiting Horseshoe Bend won’t take that much time, and we were there maybe for an hour. The trail is OK to do even with a stroller. The best time for the visit is from late morning to late afternoon. Very early in the morning the river is in shadow, and in the evening it is hard to get photos because the sun will shine straight into your camera.

Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon Recreational Area

Horseshoe Bend at Glen Canyon Recreational Area

There are still many spots at Horseshoe Bend to risk your life and climb close to the edge, and some people seem to be very brave and even took their kids up on dangerous spots. It is hard to get a photo of the river where you can fit the whole turn in it, but I would never risk our lives for the sake of a photo. We actually figured that the best view was right at the view point with the fence, but we did have to fight for space.

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This was a great little stop, and the views in this area are amazing no matter where you go. We also visited some other national parks on our stop in Page, but more about them next time!

 

Visiting Antelope Canyon in Arizona with Kids

Paula Gaston

Our Spring Break trip continued as we moved from Utah to Arizona. We still had many exciting places to see before returning back home to California. So far, the most memorable things we had seen on this trip were the amazing hoodoos in Kanab, but we also really liked beautiful Snow Canyon in Utah. After I injured myself in Zion National Park, I had to be really careful not use my thumb, but the swelling had already gone down. I also found a brace for my finger from Walmart which helped a lot. We had now driven to Page, Arizona, and our plan was to visit Antelope Canyon which had for long been on my secret bucket list. I have actually never written down a bucket list, but I have always wanted to visit Antelope Canyon.

DEADLY BUT GORGEOUS ANTELOPE CANYON

Antelope Canyon is located close to the border of Utah and Arizona, in a small town called Page. It is a slot canyon shaped and carved by water. The canyon is on Navajo indians’ land, so when visiting, people need a permit from the Navajo tribe. There are actually two separate canyons; Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon, and both of them can be visited by purchasing a tour.

 

Over many years the canyons were formed due the rain water accumulated on the top of the canyons. After building up some power at the top, the water then runs through the canyons with force bringing sand at the same time. This erosion has carved a path, a slot canyon, which is big enough for a man to walk through. In 1997, 11 people died while visiting Lower Antelope Canyon when it was suddenly filled up with water. After that, the safety of visitors has been improved by building a medal staircase in the canyon and by building an alarm system. People are also not allowed visit the canyons by themselves anymore; everyone is required to book a guided tour. In 2010 the flooding scared some visitors in Upper Antelope Canyon. No one died, but some of the visitors got stuck on ledges until the water level lowered again.

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Antelope Canyon has fast become very famous after people have seen the magical pictures of its’ red wavy walls.

ANTELOPE CANYON WITH KIDS

Before our visit, I was desperately trying to find information about visiting Antelope Canyon with kids - Especially with toddlers. Few tour operators would take kids at all, and after reading many reviews and searching for the information, we decided to go for Upper Antelope Canyon. We ended up booking a tour with Navajo Tours since they seemed to have been hosting tours with kids before and we wanted to support the Navajo tribe’s business since we were on Navajo land. I think bigger kids do fine on this tour, like for example our six year old, I was more worried about our toddler. We always want to be considerate to other people on the tours as well.

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We chose the Upper Antelope Canyon because the Lower Canyon has a little bit of climbing to do. You will have to walk some metal stairs up and down, and sometimes a small amount of sand might be falling on you.

For the tour they wont allow any bags or backpacks, so carrying the baby or a toddler on your back is not an option. We figured that our toddler must be able to walk along with us or we will have to carry her. We did see a dad there with a very small baby who was in a front carrier though…and to be honest, the canyon is very narrow, so carrying a child on your back would be kind of difficult and dangerous. Walking through the canyon is not hard or long, maybe 15 minutes total if not counting photo breaks. So in that sense, we were sure we would be able do it. However, every toddler is different, so before booking your tour just remember, that kids can’t run around in the canyon or stop whenever they want.

There were some websites that said you must bring your own car seat for the child, but I think most, if not all of the tour operators now use trucks. People will sit on the back of the truck and the toddler or a baby can sit on your lap. The drive was quite short and they drove very slowly.

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THE AMAZING UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON

Our tour went really well. 15 minutes before the tour, we were led to the trucks and then we drove about ten minutes in the sandy river bed. At the canyon we had to wait a little while, since it was pretty crowded. Our guide told us about how the slot canyon was formed and something about its history. He also showed us the best spots to take photos and took group photos for people. Tour guides seemed to know all the best filters and settings to use your camera or phone in the canyon.

This is what it really looked like.

This is what it really looked like.

The canyon is quite narrow and here and there we had to give room for people coming out. The fact that it really is pretty crowded can be a buzz kill, but the guides had everything under control. However, everyone had to really follow the rules and move along with your own group. We didn’t care so much, since the canyon was so mesmerizing!

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THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE VISITING ANTELOPE CANYON

Visiting Antelope Canyon is extremely popular and the best times for the tours are sold many in months advance. You should book your tour as soon as your trip to Page is confirmed. The best time of the day is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., when the sun is high up and you can see the sun beams shine down inside the canyon.

When we arrived, we first had to sign up to our tour and pay. Since we were there quite early, I asked if there was any room in the earlier tour. They told us that all the tours for the day were sold out, and everyone had showed up to the tour before us. You are required to check in to your tour an hour earlier, and I had read from somewhere that if you come even one minute late, they might have already given your spot to others. So of course, we were there way earlier than needed. They don’t offer an indoor spot to wait around, and it was getting hot outside, so we decided to go for a little drive after checking in. This allowed the baby to take a little nap in the back seat, and we were able to get a quick lunch. Our tour started at noon and we were guided to our tour truck at 11:45.

The price for the tour was $60 for adults and $30 for kids. And even our toddler had to pay. I knew that in recent years the prices have gone up, but most of the tour operators charge the same price. However, some charge more during the middle of the day to see the sun beams. An $8 permit fee for the Navajo tribe is included in the price, but has to be paid separately with cash. Otherwise you can pay with a credit card too. Also, don’t forget to tip your tour guide. Bring your ID and your confirmation of the reservation at check in. The tour takes about 1.5 hours.

Since there is a little bit of a wait before the tour starts, make sure to bring some water with you and maybe some snacks too. They don’t allow any bags or backbacks on the tour, and no selfie sticks or tripods. A water bottle was OK. There is no video taping in the canyon, so they also didn’t allow GoPro cameras. Sunscreen might be needed while waiting, but the canyon itself provides shade. Some kind of a hat, and even a scarf or bandana is really good on a drive, and sun glasses to protect your eyes. The sand is flying everywhere, and it made people cough and wipe their eyes.

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Despite the crowds and the waiting, we really enjoyed visiting Upper Antelope Canyon. What a surreal place! Everything went well, and as memorabilia, we got some beautiful photos from the canyon. If you visit Page, you don’t want to miss this! And next time… another amazing place from our visit to Arizona!

 

Grand Staircase-Escalante and the Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

Paula Gaston

Surprisingly, one of the best hikes of our road trip was not in a national park, but just a small trail starting from the side of the road on the border of Utah and Arizona. We had just left Zion National Park behind us and spent a night in Kanab. Then we headed towards Page were we had our next hotel reservation. While looking at the map I spotted some interesting rock formations—hoodoos, close to the road, and when we saw the sign for it, we decided to stop.

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BEAUTIFUL BUT DISPUTED GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE

The hoodoos are along the Toadstool Trail and they are part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. When Bill Clinton made this area a national monument some critiqued him and questioned the president’s authority to designate such a large piece of land as a monument. The Grand Staircase-Escalante has multiple interesting rock formations, gorges and canyons shaped by rain water, and even petroglyphs. They have also found many fossils and animal prints from these areas, as it used to be habited by dinosaurs. In fact, in 2013 they found a completely new species of dinosaur. The name Grand Staircase-Escalante comes from it’s massive rock wall that looks like a staircase. Escalante is a river running through this area.

In 2017 President Donald Trump ordered the size of the national monument to be reduced by 47%. By doing that he opened some doors to mining and road building on the Grand Staircase-Escalante. There are several law suits pending against this reduction.

TOADSTOOL TRAIL AND THE HOODOOS

The trail that takes you to the hoodoos leaves right from Highway 89. There is a small parking lot and sign which has information about the trail. When we arrived there, there were a few other cars and some people were ready to go hiking. The trail is not very long, only 1.5 miles (2.4 km), and it is easy enough to take kids with you. Most of the hike is done on a sand bed, that appears to be a dried river or such. A few times we had to climb on top of some rocks, but nothing too difficult. Our older daughter enjoyed jumping on the rocks and our smaller one took a little nap in a carrier backpack.

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The first toadstool we saw was quite impressive, and one can see it from far away. There were only a few people among us. It was so nice to be able to enjoy this place without huge crowds and take photos at your own pace. These rocks have been shaped by wind and erosion. On top of the softer sandstone there is a harder shell of rock. The harder rock will wear down more slowly than the softer rock, leaving the top rock bigger. A toadstool is another name for a mushroom, and that is exactly what these rocks remind me of. Some day the erosion will shatter the pillar of these rocks and they will fall. How sad is that!

Grand Staircase-Escalante and Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante and Toadstool Hoodoos in Utah

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I read from somewhere that if you follow the trail on from these rocks, you will see more and more hoodoos. To be honest, we were not sure what way to go since the trail is not marked and there were several paths that looked like a continuation of the trail. We tried one but it ended on top of the hill, and another one looked like it was a really steep climb. We decided we had seen enough rock formations and we headed back to the car. The day was getting hotter and it was close to lunch hour. Because of the hot weather, I would recommend this trail early in the morning. There is no shade anywhere on this route. We were there in April and it was already getting quite hot there. So I can’t imagine what it is like in the summer time. It is also easier to find parking in the morning.

This was an awesome little hike, so if you are ever driving around in this neighborhood, you should definitely stop there. We on the other hand, headed towards Page and on to new adventures at Lake Powell and famous Antelope Canyon.

 

One Rattlesnake Burger, Please! - Fort Zion, Utah

Paula Gaston

We are a quite adventurous family when it comes to both traveling and food. While getting older, I have noticed that I can’t be talked into so many silly things anymore as when I was younger, but I’m usually happy to try new foods and especially local delicacies. This time we happened to be in a place which I would categorise straight into that silliness category, and we tried something that is definitely not offered in every average burger joint.

This time we were in Utah in a tiny town called Hurricane which was close to Zion National Park. After driving over there, we quickly realised that the whole town was mostly closed. Utah is a very religious state, and most businesses are closed on Sundays. And it just happened to be an Easter Sunday too, so we ran into the problem of finding a dinner place. After some quick research, our options were: a fast food place, a bad Mexican restaurant or a restaurant a little further away with great reviews. We decided to drive over to the last one, it was called Fort Zion.

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When driving to the parking lot of Fort Zion, we figured we had arrived in a real tourist attraction. But since it was off season, there were only a couple of people other than us. Fort Zion is not only a restaurant, but they also have a big souvenir shop, a western town for photo ops, and a petting zoo. The fee for the petting zoo and the western town was only $1 but we skipped it this time. Their restaurant is especially known for homemade ice cream.

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The actual menu came to us as a surprise. Among the regular hamburgers and such, they also had some Buffalo Burgers, Elk Burgers, Wild Boar Burgers and Venison Burgers. But what on earth is in a Jackalope Burger? A Jackalope is a mythical creature in the U.S. with the body of rabbit and horns of an antelope. Maybe we should have tried that. And yes, then there also was the Rattlesnake Burger that my husband decided to try this time.

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The restaurant itself is decorated as a saloon, and there were many fun details. One of them was a giant playing card with your table number on it which was then placed on your table so that the waiters could bring you the order. Also, when ordering the food we were asked to spin a wheel of fortune. The luckiest ones would get an ice cream cone for free. We did not get the ice cream cones, but we were just happy to get some food before heading back to the hotel.

So my husband went ahead an ordered a Rattlesnake Burger, which I tried as well from his plate. The meat was white, dry and close to the taste of chicken. I would recommend to order it as medium rare rather than well done, since the meat is very dense and dry. I had tasted some snake before, but not sure if it was a rattler. When I studied in hotel and restaurant school, we made all kinds of exotic foods, and we also prepared something out of snake also. Well, now we have tried that too, but I think we both agreed that the regular burger was more to our taste.

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Fort Zion was a fun place to visit and for sure is a popular stopping place when visiting Zion National Park. The food was a little bit disappointing in the sense that they only offered burgers and we didn’t know the menu before getting there. The burgers tasted ok, but there was nothing we could order for our toddler for example. I’m not quite sure why this place had such great reviews online. Maybe they got extra points from the activities they had, or that the ice cream must have been super delicious! But one thing for sure was magnificent… and that was the view!

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After visiting Zion, we headed over to Kanab to see some hoodoos and mushroom rocks, and from there to Page and Antelope Canyon. But more about those cool places little later!

 

An Accident in Zion National Park, Utah

Paula Gaston

We continued our trip after the Easter in St. George in Utah. While there, we visited beautiful Snow Canyon to scatter our Great Gramma’s ashes in the mountains, as she had always wished. We also had an Easter brunch with our extended family before heading to our next destination. We rarely get to see so much family at once, so it was nice to spend a little bit of time with them before hitting the road again.

The next night we stayed in a small town in Utah called Hurricane. It was very close to Zion National Park, and it was easy to head out to the park from there the next morning. Zion is definitely one of those places where you want to be early to find a parking spot and to do some hiking before it gets too hot. Otherwise you will be shuttled in from a nearby town called Springdale. This was our second time at Zion, so we had already seen some of the trails. Both times we had to skip the most demanding hikes though, since we were there with kids. Hopefully we get to do the Narrows and Angels Landing hikes someday in the future.

 
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ZION NATIONAL PARK AND THE PARKING NIGHTMARE

Zion is the third most visited national park in the U.S. I do think, that I left my heart in Bryce Canyon, but I can see why so many people like Zion. It has a varied landscape and offers so many different kinds of trails and views. One can visit Zion multiple times and still feel like you haven’t seen everything. But there is one thing I really hate in these super popular national parks: the shuttle service. Even though I fully understand why it is necessary, it is a true drag when you are there with kids. It just makes access to the trails so much slower, and is not convenient if you need something from your car.

In Zion National Park you might end up using the shuttle twice instead of the usual one time. The parking lot by the Visitor Center fills up early in the morning, and if you arrive too late, you might have to park in Springdale, and take a shuttle to the park. Then you have to take another shuttle to Zion Valley where most of the trails are. For example, the Narrows and Emerald Pools trails start from there, and they have a nice little museum. This time the Emerald Pools Trail was closed due to some storm damage, but we had already hiked to the pools on our previous visit.

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WATCHMAN TRAIL AND FALLING ON THE ROCKS

Since we had already visited Zion Valley on our previous visit, we decided to do one of the trails by the Visitor Center where we had parked our car. There were two trails; the Pa’rus Trail which was an easy hike, and the moderate Watchman Trail. We chose the Watchman Trail which was a twisty trail up to the mountain vista point. This trail was about 3 miles roundtrip and suitable for kids. At least our 6 year old did well on this path. When we reached the top we had some snacks, rested a little bit and let our toddler walk around after sitting in a carrier backpack for so long. And, of course took a lot of pictures!

I have to say, that even though we did have fun on this hike, there are many trails in Zion that in my opinion have better views than the Watchman Trail. The path has a lot of rocks and in a few places gets quite narrow, so you will have to wait for the people who are coming across. You should also watch your step. On our way back down from the mountain, I stepped on a big rock without noticing a little tiny one on it. My foot slipped and I fell pretty badly on top of the rocks. Somehow I twisted my thumb and it was quite painful. Ever since I have had to be careful when using it and the healing has been slow. Luckily at the bottom of the trail there was a river and I was able to soak my swollen thumb in the cold water. I think that helped a lot. Later they gave me an ice pack at the Visitor Center.

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

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In the spring time you might see these in the trees. It is the home of a Southwestern Tent Caterpillar.

In the spring time you might see these in the trees. It is the home of a Southwestern Tent Caterpillar.

The rest of the trip I used this brace in order to keep my thumb still and let it heal.

The rest of the trip I used this brace in order to keep my thumb still and let it heal.

TRAILS FROM OUR LAST TRIP - EMERLAD POOLS, CHECKERBOARD MESA AND MANY POOLS

On our last visit to Zion we drove through the park. I would recommend everyone to do that since you can see so many cool places and rock formations from the road. There are also some really nice, smaller hikes that begin from the main road. Using a guide book, we found a spot with many pools filled with water that looked very interesting. I later read, that the place is called… Many Pools. Also, don’t forget to stop at the Checkerboard Mesa!

Many Pools was a nice little hike but this trail is not marked, so make sure to ask from the Visitor Center how to get there.

Many Pools was a nice little hike but this trail is not marked, so make sure to ask from the Visitor Center how to get there.

Checkerboard Mesa is an interesting rock formation shaped by erosion and nature. The wind has carved checkerboard like shapes on the rock wall, just like what we saw at Snow Canyon as well. You can see Checkerboard Mesa by stopping at a parking lot on the road, or by hiking closer to it.

Checkerboard Mesa

Checkerboard Mesa

Emerald Pools must be one of the most popular hikes in Zion. There are two beautiful pools shaped by nature at the mountain, and clear fresh water is stored in them after the rain. The hike is mostly steep up hill in order to get to the pools, but when coming down it is easier. We visited them both; Upper and Lower Emerald Pools.

Emerald Pools

Emerald Pools

After my accident, we decided to call it quits for the day and move on to our next destination on the road from Zion National Park. We drove to the town of Kanab where we stayed the night before heading to the Arizona side. In spite of my tripping and falling, we still had a great time in Zion and we hope to return there some day again soon!