I dragged Ben to see more dinosaur bones. He was thrilled. Well, not exactly since he isn’t into dinosaurs, but at least this time we could see actual bones easily.
While looking up things to see in Waco, I saw the Waco Mammoth National Monument listed. It is a relatively new part of the National Park Service, having been inducted in 2015. It was less than 10 minutes from downtown Waco, so after exploring Magnolia, we drove over. On our way to the park, we passed the suspension bridge, which we also wanted to walk across, but was currently closed.
We have the National Park pass, but you still have to pay admission to see the bones. The flyer at the desk says it is for access to the bones with a guided tour. However, there was not a guided tour, just someone monitoring the amount of people in the building. We basically paid another $20 to the city of Waco to see the site. It is a really small park with only one real walking trail and a short loop off of the main trail through the woods. Since there had been rain this week, parts of the trail were covered in water, so we didn’t get to go on the whole trail.
It was interesting, but I would not go back again, especially since we would have to pay 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.
There were a few reasons we stayed in Arizona. One: To help break up the long, long, long, drive across the bottom of the country. (Seriously, you see it on a map, but until we were driving and there was literally nothing for a hundred+ miles, it doesn’t quite sink in just how much land this country has.) Two: To see the cacti. We went to Saguaro National Park, which was about a half hour drive from our campsite. Saguaro actually has two sections to the park: East and West. They are not connected! (See map below.) Although each side had the saguaro cactus that the park was named for, they did offer different things to see. We went to see Saguaro West, because I wanted to see the petroglyphs.
The Visitor Center looked like a nice building (but had closed by the time we got there). It had some nice informational signs with desert life information. There was not a ranger booth/ticket booth like in many of the other National Parks we had been to. Instead, you paid at the Visitor Center. There was also an outside payment box if the Visitor Center was closed. ($25/car for 7 days or $45 for a Saguaro annual pass. It is $80 for the America The Beautiful pass that lets you into all National Parks, Monuments, etc.)
We drove the Bajada Loop (aka Hohokam Rd.) It was really neat to see, but I would recommend going in a truck, SUV, or a car that sits up higher. The highway and road to the Visitor Center was paved. However, the scenic loop road was not! While, the end of the road was nice and flat, there were sections along the rest of the road that were definitely bumpy and had some ruts. (See Video: Drive Through Saguaro National Park West) We only saw a few people in the whole park, maybe 10 people besides us.
There were a few spots to pull off and hike. It was a warm day, 90 degrees F, so we just stuck with easy short trails. We ended up doing 3 trails: Valley View, Signal Hill (petroglyphs), and Desert Discovery Nature Trail (paved). In total, about 2 miles of hiking, so it was a light day.
Valley View offered a great view at the end of the trail over the valley below. There were just cacti as far as the eye could see. It also offered a few interesting plant information plaques along the way. It must be amazing when the cacti are in bloom.
We only saw 1 lizard (looked like a small whiptail like we have been seeing out West) and a few birds. We did see a web on the ground that covered a good amount of space, but no spider to go with it.
Signal Hill was a short trail at the Signal Hill Picnic Area. There were several great grill areas and benches around for picnics. At the top of the trail was what looked like a pile of rocks. There were a bunch of petroglyphs on these rocks, some you can see from the bottom of the trail looking up, some you can see right next to the trail. If you enjoy petroglyphs, I would definitely take this trail (it’s only a .3 mile trail according to the park).
We ended the day with the Desert Discovery Nature Trail. It was an easy paved path. There were several informational signs around the trail. The sun was beginning to set, which gave the cacti a really neat backdrop. We saw a roadrunner running through the bushes near the parking lot. (Contrary to what TV taught me, there was no coyote chasing it. We didn’t see any ACME products either. They were fast, but didn’t say “Beep Beep”.)
For our time in Hurricane, Utah, we stayed at WillowWind RV Park. They offer mostly back-in sites, some pull-throughs, as well as a few teepees to sleep in. They offer 20/30/50 amps, WIFI, cable (if you bring your own coaxial cable), laundry, and a clubhouse. Their rates were for 2 people and you have to pay for any others over two. When we booked, they were still cheaper, even with having to pay for the kids, than other campgrounds available in the area.
It is close to grocery stores, restaurants, and the post office. They do sell ice, although they did tell me at check-in that it was cheaper at the local grocery store. There were a few times that we walked to the grocery store, Wendy’s, and the post office since they were only a couple of blocks away. There are even more options for restaurants and shopping (Target, Costco, Walmart, etc.) in St. George, which is about 15-20 minutes away.
There are two laundry rooms: one by the office and one by the rear bath bathrooms/shower house. We used the laundry by the office. Both were close to us, but once the loads were started, we would go to the clubhouse and the boys could play pool. The laundry room had plenty of machines, a single use detergent vending machine, and a table for folding. The cost per load of laundry varied. They had regular sized washers for $2.00/load and the dryer $1/load. The laundry room by the office had a mega washer that could hold up to 5 loads. This washer was $4.25/load and the neighboring commercial sized dryer cost $0.25/8 minutes.
The campground was dog friendly (had a dog fenced in area by office, outdoor dog wash tub by rear bathhouse, a walking area in back). There was a small gym, a clubhouse (offered books, puzzles, a kitchen, and a pool table), community fire pits (located by the office and rear bathhouse), and a horseshoe pit in the back. Individual sites did not have picnic tables, firepits, or grills. I did see a few charcoal grills around (one by the teepees, a few by a lane of RVs). There also wasn’t a swimming pool, which in the 100+ degrees, would have been nice.
The sites were paved, had grass, and trees for shade. They did have sprinklers for the grass that went off every day. One of the sprinklers seemed to be awfully close to our electric box. Several long term residents had sprinkler guards (similar to these*) set up to protect their electric where it plugs in at the box. We used an empty plastic bin to keep the water off and it seemed to work. The campground seemed to be a mix of travelers and long term residents. Everything was well maintained. Our neighbor to the right had a large collection of outdoor plants on an amazing set of shelves. I was totally jealous of all her green. We only brought Nick’s Venus fly traps! I do miss having more plants, but we just don’t have the room for them.
There were several state parks and National Parks nearby. The three closest National Parks were Zion (25-35 minutes), Bryce (2.15 hrs), and the Grand Canyon (2.5 hrs to North Rim). Of course, our definition of close is changing the longer we are on this trip. Two hours would have been an entire day trip before, but now it’s like “well, that’s pretty close, let’s go for a few hours”!
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.
I have new posts coming, I just ran a little behind!
However, I got an email this morning from the National Parks about free days coming up! Mark your calendars for 9/26 and 11/11! These are the last two days this year with entrance fees waived to the National Parks.
We have loved each of our adventures so far at the National Parks. We received our America The Beautiful annual pass as a gift before leaving on our adventure (Thanks, Mom!). Even if we had to purchase it ($80), it would have been totally been worth it. It pays for itself in about 2.5/3 visits. (For example, Yellowstone is $35 for a week pass/$70 for annual pass to just Yellowstone. Rocky Mountain is $25 for a day pass/$70 for annual pass to just Rocky Mountain. Rocky Mountain is requiring daily time reservations for entry, so they are not selling a week pass right now.)
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.
Zion is only 25-35 minutes away from our campground. We couldn’t get Zion Shuttle passes for our first couple of days there. In Zion during the main season, you need to park at the Visitor Center and take a shuttle along the Scenic Drive, the main road through the park. The shuttle passes have to be bought ($1/each) on recreation.gov. They go on sale each morning at 9:00 am MT for the next day. The morning and early afternoon passes go super fast, so get on right away to get the best time. If you are going in October, they are sold a little more in advance according to the website.
However, there is another way to see Zion if you can’t get passes right away! If you enter on the South Entrance, you enter through the Park Gates (they do check for passes/admission), and come to a split in the road. One goes to Scenic Drive (shuttle only right now) and the other goes on to the Zion-Mt. Caramel Highway, which you can drive on in your own vehicle. (If you enter on the East Entrance, you also pass through park gates and are already on this road. I believe it is also State Route 9.) You can find several trails and parking pull-outs along the road. You also drive through an awesome tunnel made in 1930. It is a mile long with windows cut out of the mountain. The windows were created for air, but also offer nice scenic views as you drive by. There are height restrictions though.
The drive is worth it just for this tunnel! 🙂 There is another smaller tunnel along the road as well.
On the other side of the tunnel, you will find various trails and pull-outs. The landscape is really neat. The rock looks like it is layered. Ben called is phyllo dough rock, which is what it looked like!
We stopped at a pull-out to look at Checkerboard Mesa, which Will had just learned about in class! There was also someone painting in the parking lot.
It was towards the end of the day, so we didn’t do any hiking, but I did find a trail there that I want to do before we leave.
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.