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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 Category: USA

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 to 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 town nearby called Springfield. 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 Angles 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 to Bryce Canyon, but I can see why so many people like Zion. It is very versatile and offers so many different kinds of trails and views. One can visit Zion multiple times and still feel like they 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 that 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 to Springfield, 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 Narrows and Emerald Pools trais 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; 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 view places gets quite narrow, so you will have to wait for the people who are coming across. You should also check where you step on. 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 hurtful. 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 finger in the cold water. I think that helped a lot. Later they gave me an ice pack from the Visitor Center.

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

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

At 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 leave from the main road. We found for example a spot with some holes 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 the erosion and nature. The wind has carved a checkerboard like shapes on the rock wall, just like what we saw at the Snow Canyon as well. You can see Checkerboard Mesa by stopping at 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 pool shaped by the nature at the mountain, and the clear fresh water is stored in them after the rain. The hike is mostly a 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 road destination from Zion National Park. We drove to the town of Kanab where we stayed the night before heading to Arizona side. Despite of me tripping and falling, we still had great time in Zion and we hope to return there some day soon again!


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!


Ride a Gondola to a Wine Tasting at Sterling Vineyards in Napa Valley

Paula Gaston

Two weeks ago we did a trip to Napa Valley which I already told about you on my last post. We went to view wineries, ate well and enjoyed the mineral pools at our hotel spa. The first winery we visited was Sterling Vineyardsille which right by the city of Calistoga. While driving over the sun came out and the spring day could have not been more prettier.



Sterling Vineyards was started in 1964 by an Englishman Peter Newton. He visited California and fell in love with the beauty and wines of Napa Valley and decided to invest in his own vineyard. Later he purchased more land from close by and built a winery building at the top of the mountain hill at the premises. The building got its inspiration from a Greek island Mykonos where Newton used to also live. Winery was first opened to public in 1972.

At some point Newton bought an old church bell from England and brought it with him to the vineyard. The bells originally belonged to St. Dunstan Church which got destroyed in the World War II and was located in London. Today the bells are in use, and they ring in every 15 minutes. At this point I have to admit though, that while our visit to Sterling I didn’t hear or notice the bells, so they must not be very loud.

Sterling Vineyards produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Shiraz. One of the biggest achievements for Sterling must of been the win at Ottawa Wine Tasting in 1981. Their wines were also used at 2016 Annual Emmy Awards and 2017 Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. The vineyard have changed owners multiple times in the past, and one of the most interesting owners is the Coca-Cola Company. Today it is owned by a big alcohol company.



From this winery I remember more the experience than their wines. Up to the winery you take a gondola that fits four people at the time. The views up at the mountain and from the gondola are of course great. Right after getting out of the gondola they have the first tasting spot and then you can start the self guided tour. You will walk through the winery tasting different wines in different rooms, and looking at the wine making videos from huge tv screens.


The tour ended to a sun deck which had a beautiful view to the vineyard. Of course it would have been even more beautiful at summer or fall time since now the vines didn’t have any leaves. They also had a restaurant at the deck which you access by making a reservation.


I have to say that the tour was really well organised and they had thought of everything when planning this. But it somehow was lacking some personal contact. Of course, if you pay more you can get a host for your group and better quality wines, but I thought that $35 for a wine tasting was already enough. They sure know how to commercialise everything in Napa Valley. After the tour you get to keep the wine glass as a souvenir. Just like other wineries, this too had all kinds of souvenir shops and other things. But for the first time I saw that some place is selling boxes of wines at the parking lot with discounted prices.

After Sterling we continued to other wineries. This was truly an interesting start for our day at Napa Valley.

A Perfect Weekend Getaway to Napa Valley

Paula Gaston

It has been a long time since I have been Napa Valley, the most famous wine growing region of the United States. There are so many wine areas in California, and Napa Valley out of all of them, is by far the most expensive to visit. That might be why we don’t often go there even though it is only a couple hours drive from our home. This time we decided to do a little getaway weekend with my girlfriends, and combine a wine trip with a little spa retreat. And it was so worth it! It was great to have some time off from home and being a mom, and just be with friends enjoying the springtime sun.


We left the San Francisco Bay Area in my friend’s van, and we had booked a driver for our group for a whole day in Napa Valley. She was already waiting for us when we arrived to our hotel in the town of Calistoga. She’d made us some reservations to four different wineries and so we headed to our wine tour. My favourite places in Napa Valley are absolutely both Calistoga and St Helen where they have many nice wineries and spas. Since it is a volcanically active area, many spa hotels use the mineral water from the hot springs at their pools. They usually also offer many kind of treatments like mud baths.


We started our tour from Sterling Vineyards. I actually wasn’t so excited after seeing their website, since it seemed to be showing only millenials partying in their night club clothes rather than the wine. But our driver assured me that this would be a nice place to visit…and it was. The wines didn’t really strike me well, but people are taken up the hill to the winery in a gondola and the views are great of course. Like so many other wineries in Napa Valley, you are paying for the experience rather than the tasting itself. The tasting included a self guided tour at the winery, gondola ride and a wine glass to take home.


At our next winery, Frank Family Vineyards, we had planned a picnic lunch. Before leaving on the tour, we stopped at a little market in downtown Calistoga and got some salads and sandwiches. Our driver Linda was well prepared for this too; she had brought a picnic basket with plates and everything. From the winery we bought a couple bottles of bubbly for the lunch and enjoyed their picnic area outside. So we didn’t actually try their tasting menu, but the wines we chose for the lunch were excellent.


After our picnic lunch we headed to the third winery which actually has a long history in Napa Valley. There are two reasons why this vineyard is important to Napa. Some of you might have heard of the so-called Judgement of Paris in 1976. It was a wine tasting contest organised in France and done blind folded. To everyone’s surprise, a wine from Napa Valley won. Normally the French were kind of laughing at Americans and their wines, but now they had to admit that there was something better than French wines. The winning wine was from a winery called Chateau Montalena which still exists in Calistoga, and where we have visited earlier. In that same competition, fourth place went to another wine from Napa Valley called Spring Mountain Vineyards. And that is where we headed next.

Another reason why this winery is known, is a television show from the 80’s called Falcon Crest. It was filmed here and even the main house from the show is at the vineyard. Spring Mountain is a very private and calm place, and they only take a handful of visitors who have made a reservation beforehand. And the wines? Amazing! But also very pricey. Many of them can only be bought straight from the winery.


Mumm Napa, the last place we visited, ended up being a waste of time. Not because it was bad, but because we were late from our schedule and they had given our table away. Wineries in Napa close early—around 4 or 5 pm—and we wanted to get to the hotel anyway before our dinner reservation, so even though we could have waited to get another table, we decided to head out. I didn’t mind so much, because I have visited it many times. Mumm Napa is very popular among the visitors and I recommend making a reservation if you plan to go there.

I will tell you about all these wineries more later.


There are many small, nice restaurants in downtown Calistoga. We actually voted about where to go, and a French restaurant “Veraison” won. It was a great choice. Nothing extra special, but the food was good and they paired everything with wine of course. I went with the chef’s menu which had Osso Bucco as a main course. The next day before heading home we also had a brunch at Sam’s Social Club which had a great outside patio. After bathing and swimming, the avocado toast with mimosa was to die for.


If you are staying the night in Calistoga, you should absolutely choose one of the spa hotels, so you can try out the warm mineral pools. This time our hotel had two saunas: a dry sauna and a steaming one. From the sauna, we ran to the pool area, where the water comes from the warm springs in Calistoga. The hot tub was way too hot for me in the sun, but I did enjoy the actual mineral water pool. The water looks a little different from the regular pool water, but they do say that it can be a different color at different times of the year. Some hotels also offer mud baths with volcanic mud or other treatments. Last time we did try the mud bath and it was a fun experience.


When we left back home, we stopped in the city of Napa to visit the Oxbow Public Market. It’s a market place where local producers sell their products, food and wines. It was a great place to buy something to take home with you.


This kind of weekend more please! What is your best getaway weekend activity?