Zion National Park


My first trip to Zion was back in 2006, shortly after getting my first “real” camera; a Canon Digital Rebel.  I remember that trip well, because it was my first attempt at serious landscape photography.  I had just acquired a tripod and felt ready to shoot in manual mode, which was still a bit confusing.  I didn’t return with anything very good, but it was a valuable learning experience, and a fun trip.  Steve and I did the Subway, which was a wild experience.

Fast forward 11 years, and my phone boasts twice as many megapixels as that original DSLR.  It captures RAW and JPG files simultaneously, and it also allows me to browse Reddit, while resting in my tent.  Oh, how times have changed.  Let alone the fact that I now have two kids and more than a few gray hairs.

I’ve been back to Zion a few times since that first trip, and I eventually captured a few photos that I’m proud of.

The Subway (this image taken in 2010 during my trip with Cy)

No photography on this adventure, though.  I didn’t even pack my tripod.  We left Encinitas at 7 pm and stopped by Casa de Lopez for some bike wheels, since we had extra space in our new camping rig.  The Space Trailer’s maiden voyage; it was a joy to pull and presented no problems as we flew up the interstate, through Nevada, Arizona and eventually Utah.  All four families packed along their bikes, which was really quite a feat, looking back on it.  Biking with young kids isn’t always easy, and I’m glad that everyone was so enthusiastic and willing to give it a try.  It worked out wonderfully.  Everyone had a blast and I hope our kids are learning that trips are extra fun when we actually do something.  Growing up, my mom would always snicker at the Asian tour buses – the ones that will drive 10 hours and have everyone stumble out of the coach to take a few pictures at the rim of the Grand Canyon, only to pack it up and drive away to the next view point.  Being half Korean, I wonder if it’s in my blood to want to do that sort of trip.  No, not in this life.

The new Space Trailer served us well

We stopped at the Holiday Inn in Mesquite, Nevada the first night. There was no sense in setting up our tents at 3 am, and it was nice being able to crash into the comfy hotel beds and get some real sleep.  Plus, the hotel offered free breakfast, which wasn’t half bad.  I can’t say that I’ve tasted worse biscuits and gravy, but one must never complain about free biscuits and gravy.  Plus, we were treated to a magic pancake machine that produced hot, golden flapjacks at the push of a button.

It’s best not to think about how this machine works

The next morning, we drove the final leg to Zion and set up our camp at one of the private campgrounds just outside the park.  Not inexpensive, but the price included heated bathrooms, clean toilets and showers, and potable water.  Since we had eight kids between the ages of 1 and 7, the amenities were definitely appreciated.  On one morning, I found myself relaxing on the john and admiring the tile work, which rarely happens on a camping trip.

Uncle Mads and Tito Lopez

The kids leading the way

After eating some lunch, it was time to explore the park along the Pa’rus Trail.  This walking/bike path hugs the banks of the Virgin River, passing below iconic formations like The Watchman and The West Temple.  I didn’t really know what to expect, since we were such a large group with bike riders of all ages and abilities.  It worked out beautifully, though.  We only occasionally lost Nora.  The little ones rode in their bike seats and Kaja, who is on the cusp of being able to ride solo, paired up with her far on the tandem seat.  Kalani was not so sure about riding fast, and insisted that I hold his hand the entire time.  This being the early season, the park was not crowded at all, a much different experience than fighting through hordes of people through Yosemite, last summer.  Which reminds me, I still need to write that one up.  As I proof read this post and check the links, I now realize that the Yosemite picture doesn’t look very crowded.  Trust me – it was.

“Daddy hold you!!”

The gang in Springdale

After returning to camp and getting some snacks, we ventured back out to do a short hike and check out the start of the Narrows.  I didn’t learn this until just now, but this would be the last day of the year that cars were allowed down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.  Starting the next day, only shuttles run to and from the visitor’s center.  A rule that we, ahem, may have ignored.

Nora, Heather & Jasmine

Zane and Kaja

We hiked down to the start of The Narrows, which ranks up there with Macchu Pichu as one of the most impressive wonders I’ve been lucky enough to visit.  Unfortunately, hiking through The Narrows proper requires wading over slippery rocks, up a freezing cold river.  Not exactly doable with little kids, so we will have to save that for a future trip.

Zion is a popular destination for difficult sandstone climbing, and is especially known for some classic big wall routes like Moonlight Buttress.  We strolled below the route, and I marveled at the fact that people were probably up there, having a grand adventure, 1,000 feet off the ground.  Nearly 10 years ago, famed climber Alex Honnold actually free soloed the route (no rope), a feat that still stands as one of the most audacious in all of climbing.

I brought my rack and rope and wanted to get on something, but it was not to be.  On Saturday afternoon, Cy and I drove out to look at a moderate crack that looked fun, but we arrived to find two parties of four at the base.  The technical climbing term for such a situation is called a cluster fuck, and it wasn’t anything I wanted to be a part of.

My sister’s family

We returned to camp and as the sun set, I began prepping the pizza for dinner.  Cy grilled some delicious wagyu short ribs over the fire, and I tossed a bunch of New Haven-style pies.  We ate really well on this trip, to say the least.  I also brought my new two-burner camping stove, which seems to work well. 

White clam pie, homage to Pepe’s in New Haven, CT

On Saturday, we drove up the road towards the east side of the park, where striking plateaus rise above the lower canyons, as the highway meanders over slickrock and other cool features.  Hoodoos abound, and the flowing ridges and lines that cover the landscape reveal how this area was once a giant series of sand dunes, which would eventually become compressed into rock.  Part of the Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau (whose other members include Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon), I happen to think Zion is the most impressive of all.

We stopped at a pull out and let the kids scramble around and explore for a bit.  Mia and Zane took the lead and went running up the slope, apparently unafraid of heights and too fascinated to worry about how they might get back down.

Scrambling up the slickrock

Mads in search of.. something

Mia and Zane

Getting back down involved some butt scooting (another technical climbing term, in case you’re wondering).  Thankfully, we didn’t have to go too far, because Zane wore through his pants and his underwear.  We got back down, just as his butt was starting to show through the holes.  I don’t think he realized how close he was to some serious rock rash.


Zane and Levi

Sadly, Janna was forced to stay back at the car with Kaja, who always seems to fall asleep on drives over 3 minutes.  I think she graded papers while she waited for us.  I bet that was fun.

Missing out on the fun

Jasmine and the boys

I wasn’t looking forward to Sunday, since it would mean packing up and leaving for home (an 8 hour drive).  The Lopezes departed first, and the rest of us decided to get another bike ride in before going.  We headed back down the same trail as the day before, but this time the kids were more comfortable and we moved quick.  Just over an hour, with just a single stop for snacks.  After packing up the cars, we made a quick stop at a rock and gem store in Springdale, and the kids picked out their favorites to take home.

The cousins peruse the selection of geodes

In order to break the drive up and maintain our sanity, we planned to stop in the fine city of Las Vegas.  Our kids had never been there before, and I figured they would really enjoy the fancy hotels and sights.  As it turns out, and I really should have remembered this from past trips, Vegas is just about the worst possible place to visit after spending time in nature.  It’s crowded, commercial, and seedy.  It’s the exact opposite of a place like Zion Canyon, and we quickly decided to terminate the plan.  But, not before we would stuff ourselves silly at a buffet.  Three thick slices of prime rib and 30 crab legs later, I was ready to make the drive home.  How I made it without stopping to go to the bathroom, I have no idea.

Cy doing his best to get his money’s worth at the M Resort

The kiddos sans Kaja

My little buddy






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