After years of poking ourselves with sewing needles, bamboo skewers for kebobs, or even sharp corners of the cabinets, you would think that we would learn.
In Arizona, Nick touched the red fruit of a cactus. The fruit were smaller than a dime and looked soft, but there were still sharp needles on there! You just couldn’t see them as easily. We had just been researching about the prickly pear cactus fruit and how you have to remove the fine needles from it before eating. However, because they were smaller, I guess he thought he could poke at them.
In Texas, near the Japanese Tea Garden, Ben had a run in with a yucca plant. There were not any sidewalks from the Garden to the neighboring parking lot, so we we trying to walk in the grass area to avoid the incoming car/truck traffic. Ben got too close to a yucca plant and got stabbed by its pointy tip. We did some quick research and found that yucca’s have a toxin in them that create swelling. We keep a stocked first aid kit in the truck, so we cleaned it, put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on and gave him a Benadryl. It bled quite a bit for such a small hole. We changed the bandage that night and used Benadryl cream. It still had quite a bump for a few days and was sore.
We have definitely learned new things on this trip. For example, I had no idea yucca had a toxin and that the ends got harder as the plant got older.
For our stay in San Antonio, we stayed at the KOA San Antonio/Alamo. It was in a more of an industrial/commercial area of town, but it was conveniently located to downtown San Antonio.
The campground had RV sites (pull through and back in), cabins to rent, and tent sites. The campground is located in a flood plain, although I think it would take a lot of rain to reach the RV sites. It also backed up to a bike/walking trail. There was also a park that was within walking distance.
KOA San Antonio/Alamo allowed mail delivery, which was really nice. The mail room was next to the laundry room and office. The office had a nice store, with snacks, drinks, postcards ($0.25 each, the cheapest we found), and miscellaneous stuff. The office also sold ice for $2.70/10 lb. bag, firewood $7/bundle, and propane for $3.25/gallon (I was unaware that the “regular” sized 20 lb propane tank holds 4.6 gallons). The bathrooms and showers were open and looked nice.
The KOA offered cornhole (bag toss), a pool (not heated and closed for repairs for half of our stay), a playground and gaga ball court, and a fishing pond. The pond was catch and release and did not require a license. The office sold bait. You could also rent bikes and peddle bikes. The boys reported that the peddle bikes were much harder to use, as it was a single gear and the bikes were heavy.
Unlike the other KOA campgrounds we have stayed in, there were no planned activities due to Covid. The other KOA’S had indoor (which we did not do) and outdoor activities, and take and go crafts.
There was breakfast for sale 7-11am. When we were first there, it was limited to pancakes (unlimited for $3.99, but you start with two and go back for more). Halfway during our stay, the menu changed to offer more items. We loved the breakfast tacos (sausage, potato, egg, and cheese in a soft taco/burrito). In the office, you could place an order for pizza for order (Brother’s Pizza). It is made in the office. At home, Brother’s Pizza is connected to a gas station, so we were a little hesitant to try it. However, we did give in one night and gave it a try. It was ok pizza, not the best but not bad either. The crust was a little softer than I would normally like, but it was nice to have the option when we didn’t want to cook or go out.
The campground also hosted a Christmas Eve tamale dinner for free for the campers. It was held in the large barn (which had been closed for social distancing). Tables were set social distance apart, staff wore masks and spaced people apart while entering the building. Each person got a container with 2 tamales, beans, rice, and the option of water or tea to drink. It was a really nice gesture and also nice to partake in a Texas Christmas tradition.
The front of the campground was gated and you needed a code to get in at night, but anyone could walk in the back from the bike trail. There was a bike stolen while we were there (not ours), so I would lock up your gear. There was some train/road/air noise, which I did notice at night.
It was in a convenient location to San Antonio and about a little over an hour from Austin. If we were in the area, I think we would stay here again.
Right now the timed entrance tickets are not being used. According to their website, there are some days near the holidays that the park will be using the timed tickets again, so check their website if you are going near Thanksgiving and Christmas. The website also stated that there was currently a limit to 1,000 people/day.
The Park opened at 8:00am, Cavern opened at 8:30am. We got there about 7:45am, and there was already a line to get into the Visitors Center. Because of the daily entrance limit, I would try to get there as early as you can. We were in the cave about 4.5 hours.
The Visitor Center had bathrooms, 2 gift shops, a ticket booth, and an informational booth (park map, junior ranger books). There were not any ranger tours (Covid), but you can rent an audio tour ($5). I would really recommend the audio tour, it had some great information and also could be useful for kids who don’t like to (or can’t) read the signs. The Visitor Center has some interesting information at the exhibits, as well as a model of the cave.
The Cave had both elevators and a Natural Entrance. If you can, take the Natural Entrance down into the cave. It was quite the view and experience to walk these switchbacks down into the cave.
There were no bats while we were there, as it was too late in the season, but it must be amazing to see them exit at night.
It is a little scary when think about how far down you are. Nick was listening to audio tour and pointed out a section with tiny stalactites laying on the ground. They had fallen in an earthquake. Of course, then I looked to the ceiling and prayed for no shaking or earthquakes because that would really, really hurt. (There were also emergency call buttons to reach the Rangers throughout the cave. It was paved and had guardrails throughout.)
When you finish walking the cavern, it brings you to the elevators and lunch area. They sold drinks and cold items there. We took the elevators back up (it looked like maybe it was one way). The elevator rose 754 feet to get back to the Visitors Center!
Recommendations: Bring a water bottle. (No food or gum is allowed, but plain water is.) Wear boots, or at least shoes with a really good tread (some spots are slick, some are a little steep). Bring a small flashlight: you can see some cool things, and well…what if they loose power? It is completely dark when there are no lights.
Jim White was the first known person to explore the cave (from 1898 to 1902). He saw what he thought was smoke and went to investigate what/where it was. The smoke turned out to be bats exiting the cave. How bored do you have to be to repel (because the Natural Entrance Switchbacks were not there), with a lantern into an unknown hole in the ground?! Seriously, it had to have been nerve wracking. He unfortunately, according to the Ranger Will talked to, never filed a claim on the cave/land. Miners came in to mine the guano and sold it to farmers, specifically to citrus groves. Eventually, the government came in and declared it a National Monument and then a National Park.
We were getting tired of exploring the Strip and wanted an activity that didn’t have quite so many people. After an quick Google search for the top things to do in Las Vegas, we settled on going to Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is part of BLM (Bureau of Land Management), so you either need the National Park Service annual pass or pay the daily rate ($15/car) if you pick a trail past the entrance gate. The Visitor Center was closed (COVID restrictions), but the Gift Shop was open.
We picked the Potato Knoll Loop from the All Trails app. This trail is outside of the Scenic Loop of Red Rock Canyon, so you do not need a pass. There are a few other trails outside of the entrance where you do not need to show your pass as well.
The trail was supposed to be 4.7 mile hike, but it ended up being 5.8 miles after we got turned around. The trails are not marked and have several spots where they cross over other trails, so I would definitely use an app. We started around 8:00 am and brought several water bottles.
The first part of the trail was pretty boring. The scenery was pretty, but it was very flat and not a lot of change. It was about the same view as you could see from the parking lot. After the first mile, it got more interesting! There were several types of cacti and plants. We saw small lizards, a couple of bunnies, antelope ground squirrels, and a few birds. Some of the plants we saw were: cholla cactus, ephedra, Joshua trees, prickly pear cacti, yucca, hedgehog cactus, and barrel cactus. Lots and lots of cacti, but they were really neat to see!
We found several spots of shade to take water breaks along the trail, which really helped. There were also not a lot of people on the trail. We came across a handful of other hikers. We did get passed up by a group on horseback though! According to the All Trails app, the trailhead parking lot is also called the horse parking lot.
We did ok with hiking until the end where we somehow got off our trail and ended up going away from the truck. Luckily, we were only a 1/2 mile off track, so we headed back and got on the right trail. I ended up following the horseshoe prints back to the truck. However, everyone was beat at this point. Ben ended up getting some cactus needles in his finger. Nick got some on his leg. Luckily they were easily removed.
We were pretty darn tired when we got back to the truck. We all got more water out of the cooler. The last mile or so we had run out of water and were very thirsty when we were done. No one felt like making dinner, so we picked up Raising Cane on the way home.
The boys were able to connect with their friends back home as well, which is always nice.
Yesterday was a boring day at the RV. Lots of school work for the boys, work for Ben, and I worked on some outdoor maintenance on the RV.
With our time coming to an end at Zion, I still wanted to get to the Canyon Overlook Trail. After everyone’s work was done for the day, we headed off to Zion. This trail is off of the Zion-Mt. Caramel Highway, right after the tunnel, so you do not need a shuttle pass. Parking is tight. There is only a small lot (compact cars only) with a bathroom across from the trail. However, there are more parking options further up the road (a mix of parking lots and off road parking). We had to drive for a while, turn around, and then come back to find a spot. It was totally worth it though!
This trail begins with stone steps going up the side of the hill. As you walk up, you get a great view of the tunnel. Some of the spots are narrow, some are against the edge of the hillside. There are railings along some of the edges, so no worries about falling over (which if you know my klutziness and Nick, you can understand the worry). You cross a walkway/bridge and come to this great natural overhang. It provided a lot of shade and was a nice break from the sun. There were some plants growing along the back wall, which made for a really neat spot to take a break.
The trail has some really neat rock formations. There were also a few spots for the boys to climb, which is always a big hit. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, only a lizard and a chipmunk. The chipmunks here are fast! Our chipmunks back home must be lazy, because they don’t move anywhere near as fast as these ones do.
At the end of the trail is the overlook. You can see the road leading up to the tunnel, Zion Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, Bridge Mountain, West Temple, Alter of Sacrifice, Streaked Wall, and the Sentinel. They have a sign that points out the different views, which I really found helpful.
It was a great hike and I am glad we got it in!
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Museum. The museum itself is closed (COVID), but you can park in the parking lot and take a trail or look at the views. There are a few informational signs around, one of which is about a natural bridge (arch) along the mountainside. I never would have noticed it without the sign, it blended in so well. We also saw a whiptail lizard along the fence line.
Every time we drive back to the campground from Zion, we pass a historical marker sign. We had never stopped before, but today I decided to see what it was. It was the coolest marker ever. The mesa on the other side of the road has a rocket sled test track! I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
Our passes weren’t until 11:00, so we packed up some snacks and lots of water. Everyone dressed in wicking clothes so we would dry off faster. We headed towards Zion a little early because I was worried about parking. The Visitor Lot fills up really quickly and although you can park in the town of Springdale and take their shuttle to Zion, I really wanted to park inside the park. I figured that after hiking we would be tired and would want to be able to leave as soon as possible.
We picked up our hiking gear (Zion Guru) and went into the park. I would say we got there around 9:45/10:00 am and the lot was half to 3/4 full. We had already put on our socks and boots at the store. Zion’s Visitor Center was closed (COVID), but they had lots of informational signs outside. We read those for a while and then attended a Ranger Program at 10:30. It was about mountain lions and was pretty interesting. Did you know they can leap 45 feet?!
A little before 11:00 we boarded the shuttle and headed in. We were going to do the Narrows hike that does not require a permit (Bottom-Up), the one that starts at the end of Riverside Trail (stop 9 on the shuttle). It is listed as a moderate to strenuous trail; how hard the hike is depends on water depth and flow.
It was surprisingly busy. The river was pretty shallow at the entrance point here, although it is still cold. You could probably walk here with just sandals on. The farther in you go, there are sections that got up to upper thigh on me. (Later in the hike, we heard other people talking that it was chest high farther down. The man was at least 6 foot tall, so I’m glad we didn’t get that far!)
Some spots in the river were clear and you could see the rocks and judge your path. Some spots were murky, I’m not sure if it was the crowd that stirred it up or the algae, but you couldn’t see the bottom. We were so glad to have the hiking poles to test the depth in front of us.
We saw plants growing from the walls, lots of different sizes and colors of rocks, Mystery Falls (a waterfall), Wall Street (narrowest part), and the Floating Rock (boulder in the middle of the river). We made it a little past the floating rock and decided to turn around. The Narrows is an in-and-out hike, and we were already tired. Everyone, except Will, had fallen at least once.
On our way back, Nick fell several more times in a row. We stopped and made sure he ate some peanut butter crackers and drank more water. After resting a few minutes, we started back again.
Ben jarred his back when he stepped in a hole. I tripped on a rock I couldn’t see and fell face first into the water. I will say I am glad we had on the water shoes that went above the ankle. I am sure I would have twisted something if I was in gym shoes. Will was still the winner at the end of the trail and had not fallen once!
We were exhausted when we were done. The shuttle line was long, and I would say we waited 45-60 minutes. We did see some deer and wild turkey while we waited. (YouTube video of walking the line for the shuttles.)
We returned our gear and headed home to take showers.
It was a once in a lifetime experience and really neat! If you were to hike the Narrows, I would definitely recommend renting equipment. The neoprene socks helped with the cold water and not having wet cotton socks rubbing on our feet was definitely a plus. The water shoes/boots were surprisingly helpful. Even the broom handle-ish walking stick seemed better suited than our normal walking sticks.
Ben and I ran into Muddy Bee Bakery and grabbed some items for breakfast: a raspberry lemon scone, a cinnamon roll, a loaf of sourdough, and breakfast sandwiches.
We were able to get afternoon passes for the shuttle and headed up. The Visitor Center parking lot was packed, but we managed to find a spot.
The shuttle is running a lower capacity (about 33 people per shuttle-which is made of two buses each) due to COVID. Our first driver was great and pointed out several of the scenes in Zion along the route. We saw a few deer along the drive as well.
There were a few trails I had on my list, but several were closed due to rock falls (stops 2, 3, 4, and 7). We decided to walk the Riverside Trail (stop 9, the final stop). It is completely paved and ends at the river where the Narrows trail begins. It is a pretty easy walk, about 2 miles. The trail goes through a swamp area (crazy in the middle of a desert) and gives you peeks at the river. Some of the rock walls along the trail were seeping water. Different plants and flowers were growing out of the rocks near these spots and made for some very pretty scenery.
There are signs everywhere saying not to feed the wildlife (in particular a lot of “don’t feed the squirrels”). These squirrels are ballsy. They come right up to you and beg for food. You know how Custer State Park had begging burros? Zion definitely has begging squirrels.
We had to wait a little bit for the shuttle back, but it wasn’t too long.
We were able to get passes for the next day in the early afternoon and decided to hike the Narrows. We rented equipment from Zion Guru. The store was in Springdale, which is right outside the gates to Zion. It was $25/person and you got a hiking pole, neoprene water socks, and water shoes/boots.
Note: The park does state to wear a mask, but it is not really well enforced. There were people who kind of had it on for the shuttle and once boarded took it off.
Today we drove to Bryce Canyon (about 2.25 hours from the campground). We wanted to see the hoodoos, so we looked for the best trail to take. (And by best, I mean the best that we could actually hike!) We looked in the National Parks* book and on the AllTrails app. We ended up taking a combo trail from the All Trails app for Wall Street and Queens Garden.
It was a great trail and really worked out our legs! The incline and switch backs made sure everyone was tired at the end. The views were incredible though. The combo trail was a loop trail, so we ended up back near the parking lot.
At the end of trail, near the parking lot, we ran into another family heading into the trail as we were heading out. They were a large group, with 5 or 6 kids. No one was wearing a mask and they were taking up almost the whole path. We had our masks up and stepped off to the side to let them by. Their kids were running everywhere. The dad noticed us and said, “Let’s move out of the way so they can get by.” Awesomesauce. We said thank you and started moving past them, when he adds “Make sure to stay 6 feet away or we’re all going to die.” Seriously? I didn’t mock you for not wearing a mask. We just waited by the side so you could get by and we could then go. There was no reason to add the sarcastic comment. If you don’t believe in wearing a mask, fine, but you don’t have to be rude. Especially if someone isn’t being rude to you. Ok, I’m done venting.
We got back to the truck and ate lunch. We drove around the park for a little bit seeing different overlooks/pull-offs. On our way out of the park, we stopped and walked Inspiration Point. It had some amazing views overlooking all the hoodoos. There are three levels to this path/observation points, but each one has a great view.
There are several tourist shops outside of the park. We stopped at a gift shop on our way home. There was a sign on door that said the state of Utah was “recommending” masks, but they were not required to enter their store. We picked up some postcards and a couple of other items, but we tried to be really quick.
Utah is by far the worst state so far for mask wearing. I would say 90%+ are not wearing masks outside, and even inside at least 50% are not. Right now it is up to each county if they require masks or not. Moab was much better at requiring masks to be worn indoors, although outdoors was still bad.
I am glad we went to see Bryce. The landscape was amazing and very surreal to hike through and then see from up above.
We made it to Arizona today! We drove to see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was about a 2.5 hour drive from our campground.
We hiked the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails and the Bright Angel Point trail. These trails were pretty well paved. There were some nice overlooks along the way. We could even see the Colorado River on the Cape Royal/Angels Window Trails. The views were amazing, although the trails were a little crowded.
It was pretty and had more trees than I was expecting. We saw some lizards, a couple of hawks, maybe a turkey vulture, some wild turkeys, and even a snake in the parking lot.
We have definitely seen more snakes on our trip than we usually do at home. We did our research before we left and learned identifying marks of poisonous snakes (at least for the US/North America). Poisonous snakes will have cat eyes (elongated pupil). They will have thicker bodies and broader triangular heads. Rattlesnakes will have the rattle sound, but some other snakes apparently will also mimic this noise by moving their tails against the ground/leaves. Poisonous snakes also have a heat pit on their face/nose, but I don’t think you can see that one from far away! The exception to these rules is the coral snake who has round pupils, but you can tell it’s poisonous by it’s coloring (red and yellow a dangerous fellow, red and black poison lack). This website was really helpful when it came time to teach the kids what to look out for. Of course, we still try to maintain all the distance we can!
The day started a little rough. The school had done an update to the software and students and teachers were having a hard time accessing their accounts. The boys couldn’t log on at first, then their “live” session links were missing, and once those showed up, their assignments disappeared. Some of their classes were cancelled because of the issues. Hopefully, it all gets resolved for tomorrow!
Once school and work were finished for the day, I wanted to go see some of the dinosaur bones and petroglyphs in the area. It was much cooler today, so it was perfect for hiking. The morning was in the 50’s and the high forecast for 82!
Our first stop was at Mill Canyon. It is right off of 191. The drive starts off going through private land and ends up on BLM land. Mill Canyon is a dirt/gravel road until you reach the Track Site. You might be able to use a car on this road to reach the dinosaur track site, but they do recommend 4-wheel drive. If you want to get to the dinosaur bone trail, you definitely need 4-wheel drive and probably a vehicle that sits higher up (SUV/truck/Jeep). It was the first time we had tried a more challenging terrain or used 4-wheel drive in the truck. We did alright and didn’t get stuck in the deep sand.
The bone trail is left open to the elements. There are informational signs at each stop, but it was really hard to see the bones in most of the locations. We had the information pamphlet and the plaques to help guide us, but other than look “four feet to the left” or look for purplish spots in the rock, there wasn’t anything to really guide you to find the bones. It would have been super helpful to have a simple diagram of the rock or something.
At the end of the bone trail, you can see the remains of a copper mill. It looks like the back wall and corners of a stone foundation.
(NOTE🙂 I have a lot of pictures from the trails. I only put the a couple above, but if you scroll to the end of this post I have a few more pictures as well.)
We went back to the truck and headed back toward the dinosaur track site. There is also a path for the Halfway Station, an old railway station. However, that sandy path looked even rougher than the one we had just gone on and we didn’t want to risk it.
At the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, there is a gravel parking lot, a campsite, and a bathroom. There is a short trail down to the dino prints. The site is fenced off and once through the gate, you walk on a wooden boardwalk in a loop around the footprints. There are informational plaques around the trail/boardwalk. Some prints are easier to see than others, but you can definitely see some.
I think my expectations were a little too high. Will and I still enjoyed it, but I think Ben and Nick were not very impressed. Ben especially started loosing interest when the dinosaur track plaque stated they didn’t know what kind of dinosaur made the track and then showed what they thought it would look like. There are a few other dinosaur sites near Moab, but it seems that they all require off-roading or 4-wheel drive.
After Mill Canyon, we went to Poison Spider Trail. Poison Spider has two slabs with dinosaur tracks and some petroglyphs. The trail information I read beforehand claimed you could see them from the parking lot. I guess technically you can, but you would need to know exactly where they are and probably need binoculars to really see the tracks and petroglyphs. We took the trail and saw one slab with tracks. These tracks were a little easier to see. We didn’t see the petroglyphs until we were almost back to the parking lot. I turned around for one last look and just happened to see them.
There was a saving feature to our adventure today, one that everyone loved: Utah Highway 279. We passed this turn-off (toward Potash) every time we drive back towards Moab. This time we took the road to get to the Poison Spider Trail. We saw people rock climbing along this stretch of highway and there was the Colorado River near the road as well. The main attraction (for us) were the petroglyphs along the cliff walls. Some were faded, but most of them were easily visible. There is a small sign stating “Petroglyphs” by a small pull-out, so look for it as you drive by. There were so many of them, it was amazing. Ben claimed everything was worth it just to see them.
(Side Note: At the corner of 191 and the turn-off to 279, there is an UMTRA Energy Project. The area is fenced off with an electric fence and there were radioactive symbols around. I looked it up later and they are removing uranium tailings. I guess there used to be a uranium processing plant there.)