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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.

Filtering by Tag: Utah

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.



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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.



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.



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

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.


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!


Good Byes to Great Gramma at Snow Canyon, Utah

Paula Gaston

It’s finally time to update some travel news from our road trip to Utah and Arizona. Our schedule on trips is usually pretty busy, and I don’t want to use my time by being at my laptop. This time I at least managed to post some travel photos along the road from Nevada. The main reason for our trip was to meet some relatives in St. George, Utah, and take our Great Gramma’s ashes to the mountains as she wished. We met some of the family for dinner on Friday night, and then headed to Snow Canyon State Park the next day.


I had never heard of Snow Canyon before this, but it was amazingly beautiful, like most parks of Utah. All the sandstone looked so red in the sun. After getting our group together we headed out to find a peaceful place between the rocks. Some spring flowers were blooming, and there were also some greener areas with trees here and there. One couldn’t get a more beautiful resting place than this, and I hope our kids got a nice memory of the day.


While the day was starting to get hotter we still decided to hike a little more, and see some other areas at the park. We found Petrified Sand Dunes Trail and followed it since it sounded interesting. A long time ago, the winds blew some sand to this area which later condensed into rocks. It is called Navajo Sandstone, referring to the Navajo Indians who used to live on these lands. If you look at the stone hills further away, they actually do look like sand dunes. From closer, one could see how the wind and erosion has carved all kinds of lines and marks on them. They reminded me a lot of Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon in Utah

Snow Canyon in Utah


The trail was pretty easy and all the kids walking with us had fun jumping on the rocks. It wasn’t too difficult to climb up or down the dunes even for kids, though more difficult with a toddler in a carrier backpack. When we got up on one of the dunes, the red sand stone was spread out as far as we could see. We also found an area with small round rocks formed by erosion. Nature is so amazing and we are lucky to be able to enjoy it this way!


Even though the day was a little bit emotional, we enjoyed visiting Snow Canyon State Park. We were happy that we were able to be there with the rest of the family. We don’t get to see them that often. And we were happy that we got so many beautiful memories from this day that will always remind us of Great Gramma!


8 Photos from Our Road Trip to Utah and Arizona

Paula Gaston

Our first travel day from California via Nevada and Arizona to Utah went well. We drove about 486 kilometres (302 miles), and spent a night in a city we already knew in Mojave, California. We even stayed in a same hotel as we did on our last trip. It is in a convenient spot midway on our drive. Due to heavy rains in California this winter, the famous golden hills were all green and lush, and the reservoirs were full of water.


Also the Joshua Trees seemed to have loved the rain since they were all blooming. And they don’t bloom every year! These unique trees only grow in this one area.


We continued from Mojave toward Nevada and Las Vegas on I-15 which goes through the desert. The views are not the greatest there but surprisingly every once in a while there is something cool to see.


Along the road is a place called Zzyzx. The name has a funny history. It was founded in 1944, and it was meant to be the last place name in the English language.


We were actually so curious that we decided to explore Zzyzx a little. We took the Zzyzx Road a little ways until we saw a parking lot and one has to continue on foot. This area belongs to the Mojave National Preserve and there is a Desert Studies Center. Years ago this place used to have a spa. We turned around at the parking lot and returned to take some photos of the old lake bed which was now covered by salt. That was about the most exciting thing they had in Zzyzx.


Right before Las Vegas there is an art installation called Seven Magic Mountains. This piece by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone was opened in 2016, and it was supposed to be up for only two years. Though, it started to attract more and more people, and so the plan was extended to the year 2021.


Finally we crossed the Arizona State border and ten minutes later also the Utah border. From there we only had a ten minute drive to the city of St. George. That was a quick visit to Arizona.


And FINALLY THERE! More about our adventures in Utah and Arizona soon so stay tuned!