Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

Hitched Up: Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

I just returned from a wonderful tour of Central Europe with my mom and have already started writing about our experience. But, before I share all about that adventure I figure I should catch up on an older one- the quick trip to southern Utah and northern Arizona Mitchell, Gaius, and I made in March. Since our journey out west took us north from Texas to Canada, then across to the Pacific coast, we didn’t have an opportunity to explore much of Utah or Arizona before winter hit. With spring on the horizon we decided to head out and see as much as we could before I jetted off to Europe at the end of the month with my mom.

Snow Canyon State Park, St. George, Utah.

We planned a quick trip from California with stops in Las Vegas, Nevada, St. George and Kanab, Utah, and Page and Sedona, Arizona. Of course the week we chose to travel to Las Vegas they had their first snowstorm in 11 years and the highway we needed to take was closed. Luckily the storm only lasted one day, the roads were reopened quickly, and we were able to travel through safely.

I-15 From CA to Las Vegas, NV.

We only stayed in Vegas for two nights and the first was spent setting up camp then trying Sushi Twister, an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant off the strip. Our RV park was also off the strip but conveniently offered a free shuttle service that we used to get around.

We spent the day walking along the strip and stopped for lunch at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar. We ordered “Trash Can Nachos” which were stacked and baked in a tin can before being inverted and poured onto the plate at our table. We also ordered a hawaiian chicken sandwich and a mac-n-cheese burger. It was all terribly unhealthy but super delicious.

Our main objective in Vegas was to see the Cirque du Soleil show “Ka.” We love catching the touring Cirque shows and had just seen “Volta” with my mom in San Jose, CA. We saw “O” with family when we were in Sin City for our wedding and were excited to see another performance on one of the big stages. We attempted to walk off some our lunch then headed over to the show, which turned out to be a disappointing experience due to the person seated next to me using a bright cell phone to scroll social media and text for nearly the entire show. They didn’t even silence their phone so in addition to the brightness, noisy alerts and notifications sounded every few minutes.The person got mad and became even more rude when I politely asked if they could put their phone away or step out of the theater, and with no staff in sight to help, the rest of the show was quite uncomfortable.

After that incident we were so ready to escape the crowds and head out into nature again. After a short drive we arrived at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah. Though its name suggests wintery weather conditions, Snow Canyon is actually named after an explorer and only sees about an inch of snow on average each year. However, we arrived just in time to see the aftermath of the largest snowstorm the area has experienced in over 20 years…

…Not enough snow to pull out the skis but temperatures did drop down below 30 for the first few nights of our stay and we had to take precautions to keep the pipes and tanks in our RV from freezing. During the days, we had clear skies and bright sun with a cool breeze. Hiking conditions were fantastic. We hiked over massive petrified sand dunes, through a cool slot canyon, and along the nice paved, ADA accessible trail.

The park has two great accessible trails. One is paved and runs along the main park road while the other is an old dirt and gravel service road that travels through the park and has stunning views of the canyon. These are the only trails within the main park that dogs are permitted to use. Dogs are permitted on all trails that are part of the separate Paradise Canyon trail system which is accessed from a road outside of the main park. We didn’t see the Paradise Canyon trails this visit but I’d love to check them out with Gaius next time.

Our next stop was to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, where we volunteered working with dogs, pigs, bunnies, and parrots. To read about our volunteering experience, click here. After volunteering in Kanab we traveled to Page, Arizona and stayed at Lake Powell’s Wahweap campground.

Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir and although I’ve learned that reservoirs are not among my favorite destinations, during our off-season visit things were quiet and peaceful. We enjoyed walking along the huge accessible trail that travels through the campground loops, to the picnic areas, and down to the lake. Lake Powell also has accessible parking spaces for RVs and vehicles with boat trailers.

During our visit in Page I was most excited to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. Both sites have become extremely popular, largely due to social media, and stay busy pretty much year-round. But, what else would you expect from a place that looks like this?

Horseshoe Bend.

We woke up early hoping to see Horseshoe Bend before the crowds arrived and to avoid using the shuttle service that is mandatory between 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, due to construction. I learned the construction project includes adding an ADA accessible trail (yay!), visitor center, and larger parking lot. During daily construction hours the parking lot is only open to shuttles. The shuttle is accessed just down the road from the trailhead and the fee is $5 per person.

The early morning trip was well worth it and although the small parking lot was half full by 6:30 am, we had no trouble finding a spot. The view at sunrise was spectacular and we even caught a really cool rainbow on our walk down the short trail to the bend. Visiting Horseshoe Bend is free but to see the equally stunning Antelope Canyon, one must book a tour.

Heart-shaped lighting on the canyon wall in upper Antelope Canyon

Also worth it! I had seen many amazing pictures on social media depicting a seemingly empty, peaceful, and colorful canyon. Though the canyon is truly magnificent, those pictures are somewhat misleading in terms of what to expect out of the typical Antelope Canyon experience. The canyon is fully-packed with tour groups and photo ops are basically staged by the tour guides who move visitors along through the canyon ensuring that everyone is able to take pictures without any photobombers.

Our guide was very eager to point out the most interesting features to photograph and served as a personal photographer, taking pictures of each party with their phones. The experience can be somewhat overwhelming if crowds aren’t your thing, but if you want to enjoy the beauty of the canyon up close then this is the only way to do it. The canyon has an upper and lower section with tours offered for both.

We chose the upper canyon because it is supposed to have better lighting during the winter and spring when the canyon is typically not as well-lit. The upper canyon is more accessible with a level walking trail. The lower canyon requires guests to climb a few short ladders. Both are reported to be equally as stunning. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting the upper canyon but I’d love to try the lower canyon on our next visit.

Next we headed to Cottonwood, Arizona and stayed a few nights at Dead Horse Ranch State Park located on the Verde River Greenway. The area is very popular for bird watching and mountain biking though I’ll admit we didn’t do much of either.

We did attend a chuckwagon supper and western show at the Blazin’ M Ranch adjacent to the park. Neither of us had ever been to such an attraction and thought, “well why not?”

The ranch is set up like an old western town with shops selling local goods and a saloon that makes surprisingly strong drinks. I had the most amazing prickly pear margarita.

Guests of the ranch can also enjoy the shooting range, farm animals, museum, western portrait studio, and tractor-pulled wagon ride before heading into the dining hall for the barbeque supper and dinner show. Everything was very good and although it could be considered a bit hokey, it was a nice family-friendly way to spend an evening.

Our next stop in Arizona was Sedona. I had heard so many great things about this little desert town but I was not expecting it to be so beautiful. And we weren’t the only ones with an itch to visit- it was packed! Crowds were possibly a little higher than usual due to spring break season but we still had a nice time on the trails and exploring town.

We met up with two other couples that I follow on Instagram who happened to be traveling through the area at the same time. One couple we met for drinks and a fun hike to Bell Rock, and the other we met for a nice dinner. It’s always great making new friends and meeting other travelers on the road.

We had a great time hiking with our new pals (and their fur babies) at Bell Rock, one of Sedona’s vortex sites, believed to radiate soothing and healing energy that can be felt and harnessed by visitors. Maybe it was all in our imaginations but we agreed that we definitely felt a little extra chill and peaceful near the vortex.

Just down the interstate in Camp Verde is Montezuma Castle, one of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the country. Ninety feet up into a limestone mountain sits this impressive, 5-story dwelling that was built and inhabited by the Southern Sinagua people, who were indigenous to the southwestern United States. Early American settlers erroneously credited the masterful engineering of the Southern Sinagua to the Aztecs, naming the site Montezuma Castle, after the famous Aztec emperor. Doh!

A short, paved, accessible nature trail leads visitors to the best view of the castle.

Nearby Montezuma Well was used for farming and has a few additional dwellings. Though the water in the well is carbonated and contains arsenic, it’s home to several unique species of leeches, water scorpions, and freshwater snails that are found nowhere else on earth. Southern Sinagua farmers made their homes in the limestone cliff along the well and built canals for irrigation.

We did some hiking out in the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness, away from the trails most popular with tourists. The hiking here was just as beautiful and offered the more peaceful, quiet experience we prefer. We also felt comfortable bringing Gaius along, who isn’t a fan of loud noises and does better in smaller (or no) crowds.

After hiking all morning we dined at the Hideaway House restaurant where we had an awesome lunch, complete with drinks and a view of the red rocks. Their patio is dog-friendly so Gaius was able to join us for the meal too.

The week in Sedona seemed to fly by, and though it was beautiful, it was also a bit expensive. We visited the farmers market and a few craft markets during our visit but didn’t end up buying much because things were too pricey.

Next we stopped in Needles on the California-Arizona border for a bit more exploring. By night we had amazing cotton candy sunsets and by day we hunted for bright, delicate wildflowers.

We made a quick trip to Lake Havasu City to see the London Bridge, which was little more than a tourist trap. The bridge formerly spanned the River Thames in London, England but now sits over a canal on Lake Havasu in Arizona. The City of London dismantled the original London Bridge and put it up for sale when they realized a bigger and sturdier bridge was needed. It sold to the founder of Lake Havasu City, who hoped it would bring people and new development to the area. It worked!

From there we headed back to my mom’s house. I packed my bags for Europe, kissed my dog and husband goodbye, and off we went! Stay tuned for the first country of our tour: Poland! Thanks for reading!

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Out in southern Utah, nestled in a serene desert canyon exists a vast and magical safe haven for animals big, small, healthy, or unwell. Literally described by some as “heaven on earth,” Best Friends Animal Sanctuary provides care to over 1,600 abandoned and rescued animals with the help of their animal-loving staff and eager volunteers. The sanctuary has a “no-kill” policy, meaning animals stay as long as it takes until they are adopted and move on to their forever homes.

I first learned of this amazing non-profit when I was talking with a coworker about our plans to travel the country in an RV and to do volunteer work. She immediately recommended Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and shared her experience as a volunteer. She insisted that if our RV travels brought us anywhere near Utah, we simply had to make the trip.

The sanctuary makes registering to volunteer a breeze. Those interested can visit their website, create a volunteer account, watch a short orientation video, and schedule when and where they would like to volunteer. Animal areas that accept volunteers include Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, and Wild Friends. If working directly with the animals is not your thing, volunteers are also needed to help out in the sanctuary store, at the Angels Rest pet cemetery and memorial, and with landscaping projects around the property.

There are two volunteer shifts each day from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:15-4:00 p.m. We spent two days at the sanctuary and volunteered both shifts each day. We also enjoyed delicious lunches at the sanctuary’s cafe. More on that later.

On our first day, we attended a brief 15-minute registration meeting at the Welcome Center then headed off for our first shift at DogTown. The residents and caregivers from DogTown were featured in a television documentary series carrying the same name and produced by National Geographic. Our work in DogTown consisted of walking juvenile dogs out on the beautiful snowy trail. We were also able to sit in on an agility training session and a clicker training demonstration. The information was great and we learned training skills that we were able to take back and use with our own pup.

…And then it was time for that lunch I mentioned earlier. An all-you-can-eat buffet lunch is available onsite for a mere five bucks. Aligning with the sanctuary’s commitment to show kindness to all animals, the lunch is also completely vegan. I have to say how impressed we were with the quality and taste of the food, along with the ambiance of the dining room. In addition to the daily entree items, there was a full salad bar, fresh fruit, and yummy baked treats.

Since the lunch period is from 11:30 am – 1:15 pm, we had plenty of time to enjoy our meal and drive back to the RV in town to check on our little dog and take him for a quick walk. For our second shift that day we worked in Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. Working here with the piggies and their awesome caregiver turned out to be our favorite experience. We started off by scooping pig poop. That’s right, volunteers aren’t just there to pet pigs, there’s real work to be done and the job can get pretty dirty.

Scooping aside, there were many, many opportunities to pet and socialize with the pigs. One of my favorites was Papa, a very shy pig with a strong love for naps, almonds, and Fig Newtons (my spirit animal, perhaps). Papa usually shys away from people, but came out of his shell for us and even let me pet him while he got his snack on.

We also helped keep the pigs calm and distracted while their caregiver trimmed their hooves, then we helped feed the pigs their dinner. These piggies loved peas, corn, carrots, and lettuce.

Day 1 was an absolute success and we were excited to spend another day at the sanctuary. The next morning we started off in the Bunny House where we scooped poop, mopped floors, changed out soiled linens, poured fresh water for the bunnies, and reassembled their indoor living quarters.

Each bunny dorm houses two or more bunnies and must be cleaned daily. These adorable furballs poop approximately 300 times per day and their urine contains ammonia, which can be dangerous to their sensitive respiratory system and soft coat. Bunnies also love nibbling on egg cartons and wooden toys which can leave quite a mess. After we finished housekeeping duties, we switched over to room service and delivered lettuce snacks to each bunny suite.

Something I noticed right away was that everything at the sanctuary is kept very clean. All of the animal cages, play pens, and outdoor areas were well-maintained and I was happy we played a part in the upkeep. It was also clear that the sanctuary staff really want volunteers to enjoy their experience and to have fun. Volunteers should always check with the animal caregiver before pulling out a camera during a shift, but taking photographs is allowed in most animal areas and even encouraged, under safe conditions of course.

After another fantastic lunch we checked in at the Parrot Garden for our last shift of our visit. We started off by giving the indoor atrium a good ole deep cleaning. We swept, mopped, scrubbed the walls, and wiped down all surfaces in the atrium. The atrium is used heavily in the winter when the cold weather limits visits to the outdoors cages.

We also played chauffeur, carefully loading big beautiful birds onto our forearms and walking them over to spend time in the freshly-cleaned atrium. I carried LaQuita, the blue and gold, male macaw pictured below while Mitch carried his red, lady friend, Kaimi. Can you believe LaQuita is older than I am? He’s fabulous at 40-years-old!

Kaimi (red, female) and LaQuita (blue, male).

We also spent some time with the rainforest birds where we did a bit more cleaning then showered the birds with a faux rainstorm. As soon as the hose was pointed into the cage, the birds would squawk and quickly climb their way over to the sides of the cage putting themselves directly in front of the stream. It reminded me of kids laughing and playing in the sprinklers.

Next we were tasked with preparing a large batch of bird food by following a special recipe that blends various seeds. Our kitchen duties were supervised by a sweet little birdie who recently lost his friend and has been feeling lonely. We learned that parrots bond in pairs, forming a deep connection with either another bird (like Kaimi and LaQuita) or a human caretaker. When a parrot loses or is separated from their bonded pair it can be devastating and the bird can become depressed or self-destructive. For this reason, the sanctuary tries to keep bonded pairs together while they live at the sanctuary and when they move on to their forever homes.

After our final shift we drove over to Angels Rest, the sanctuary’s animal cemetery and memorial site. Each month the sanctuary holds a special service to honor and remember the animals placed in Angels Rest. Here there are hundreds, if not thousands, of windchimes that have been dedicated to lost pets and animal lovers. When the wind blows, they play a soft, enchanting melody that fills the canyon with peace. It was beautiful and the perfect place to reflect on our visit.

We plan on volunteering again (and again) and I highly recommend the experience to others too. The sanctuary offers free, guided tours daily and their are a few options for lodging onsite, including cottages, cabins, and two full-hookup RV sites. Though onsite accommodations can fill up quickly, the town of Kanab has several hotels, RV parks, and restaurants. Groups and families are welcome to volunteer together- I can’t think of a better team bonding activity for coworkers or a cooler way to get kids involved in volunteering. Volunteers as young as 6-years-old can work in Cat World or the Bunny House when accompanied by an adult. The other animal areas have minimum age requirement for volunteers beginning at 8 years. During summer months, the sanctuary also hosts a day camp for children ages 6-9. For more information about becoming a volunteer visit https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/volunteer. If traveling to the sanctuary in Kanab is not in the cards, there are still many other ways to help out, including sponsoring an animal, purchasing a memorial wind chime, sending an honorary or remembrance gift, or making a donation. For more information visit https://bestfriends.org/donate.

Thanks for reading!

Salt Lake City, Utah and Craters of the Moon

Salt Lake City, Utah and Craters of the Moon

When I initially started trip planning I had wanted to visit all of Utah’s beautiful parks before heading into the northern states. That is until I realized I had us scheduled to be in Utah during July when the temperatures are in the triple digits. Instead of visiting Bryce Canyon, Aches, Zion, and Canyonlands (to name only a few on my list) in the heat of July, we decided to make a quick stop in Salt Lake City to visit my cousin Allison, then plan to head back to Utah in the cooler spring of 2019. As soon as we arrived in SLC we headed off with Allison to explore downtown. We saw the Utah State Capitol and walked through the beautifully-landscaped Temple Square.

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We visited the free exhibits at the Clark Planetarium and ran around playing like a group of big kids. The planetarium had accessible parking and restrooms with wide aisles throughout.

The planetarium featured a lot of interesting shows but unfortunately we weren’t able to see any this visit. Even without seeing a show there was plenty to do and see. We also spent a lot of time browsing the cool stuff sold at the gift shop and snagged some freeze-dried astronaut ice cream sandwiches on our way out.

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While we’ve been loving life out on the road, it can be difficult to take care of business and chores when you don’t have a home base. We took advantage of city amenities during our visit and scheduled our truck for service at the Toyota dealership and took Gaius to the veterinarian for his heart-worm prevention treatment. I’m pretty sure this guy working the doggy daycare has the best job ever.

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Allison and I snuck away for a quick trip to Antelope Island State Park where we saw herds of grazing buffalo, beautiful antelope, and swarms of brine flies down by the Great Salt Lake. The beach with it’s salty scent, buzzing flies and still, shallow waters had an otherworldly kind of feel. A metal ramp leads partially down to the beach. Accessible parking and restrooms are available.

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We also visited Mrs. Cavanaugh’s, a chocolate factory right down the road from our RV park. For $1 visitors can tour the factory to learn a bit of the company’s history, see how the chocolates are made, and taste free samples. Mrs. Marie Cavanaugh started the company back in 1964 when a taste of her chocolate not only convinced the banker to approve her loan to open a candy shop, but also made him her first customer.

If you’ve been following my blog or instagram feed you know I love a good hot spring. Allison made reservations for us to visit Homestead Crater, a very unique geothermal spring that sits inside a 55′ tall limestone rock formation. The teal-blue, deep water stay between 90-96 degrees year round, making it the perfect temperature for a relaxing dip no matter the season. The pool is also popular among scuba divers who explore the waters below while soaking guests float wearing life vests at the surface. Visitors who come to soak pay $13 ($16 on weekends) for 40 minutes and must wear the provided life vests. Although there were many visitors who soaked with us, the pool was large enough to not feel crowded. I was hoping the pool would have felt a bit more natural with its ambiance. There were orange and white floating buoys, bright lights hanging over the water, and wire caging covering the skylight. Even still, it was a fun experience and we had a nice time.

On our way back to SLC we stopped in Park City, home of the Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, the town offers lots of restaurants, bars, shopping, and when the weather is right, snow activities. I saw lots of accessible parking on the streets and in lots and garages.

Back in Salt Lake City we indulged in some edible cookie dough from the Dough Co. I tried s’mores, birthday cake, and mint chocolate. They were all amazing. When we first entered the shop I noticed a set of stairs with no ramp but then saw the mechanical lift.

We said our goodbyes and made our way to Idaho to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. This place was awesome! Packed with volcanoes, caves, and lava rocks galore, this site was last active only a mere 2,000 years ago.

The park is relatively small with one main loop and can probably be explored in a full day. The park is also awesomely accessible. Most of the trails are paved and each trailhead has a sign with details about the accessibility of the trail, including length, width, surface, and grade. There were also details about any obstructions along the trail, such as steps, ruts, or large rocks. I would love to see this level of detail provided for trails at other parks. Accessible parking and restrooms are also available.

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We hiked most of the trails and obtained a cave permit to explore the wild caves and tunnels. Cave permits are issued for the protection of bats, which are dying from exposure to fungus that can be spread by visitors. Upon request, visitors are screened and provided a permit to enter and explore the caves, although there did not appear to be much regulation. I hope this means the bat population is thriving. Walking through the lava fields and up the giant inferno cone was cool but my favorite attraction was definitely the caves.

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Flashlights and sturdy shoes required! The entrance to most of the caves was just an opening in the ground. Bending and stooping is necessary for those over 3 feet tall. Below all that lava rock the temperature of the caves was divine and a provided a great cool refuge from the heat. One cave was so cold there was a slick layer of ice on the ground.

We had so much fun exploring craters of the Moon. I would highly recommend a visit and I’m really glad we made the short detour west. Next stop, the Grand Tetons!

Thanks for reading!