Stop 22: Zion National Park
Las Vegas (Friday)
We reluctantly left the decadence and comfort of Carin's LA home, and headed first to Las Vegas, for one night only. We very much enjoyed the three hour traffic jam caused by an accident en route, causing us to take SEVEN hours to get there, and to be more than a little late for our evening plans.... Nat had a lovely evening of dinner and drinks with friends Linda and Nicola at the Aria, while Helen (or her misbehaving alter ego Belen') met up with her friend Tony to see Calvin Harris at Hakkasan. Needless to say, the city which stole Helen's soul on a previous trip came back for more, and Nat was forced to take her to Zion National Park rehab the following day....
Zion National Park (Saturday)
For our final week on the road, we decided to upgrade our trusty Toyota (soz LeToya) in Vegas for a racier model - a zippy black Mustang convertible which we named Solange (for her fierceness). We had a rather dippy blonde moment when we first tried to put the roof down, and upon finding we couldn't, called over the car rental man to ask if it wasn't going down because the boot was full of luggage meaning there was no room for the roof.... The man did his best to hide his smirk when he pointed out that it was in fact because we hadn't undone the roof catches... IDIOTS. We drove further into the Mid West until finally the temperature reached below 80F degrees and Helen casually mentioned putting the roof back on the car, which Nat tried to carry out with the car moving at 80mph. Luckily some of Helen's marbles had returned by this point and she quickly stopped Nat from carrying out an act which would have guaranteed the permanent separation of the roof from the car.... Instead we decided to try to put the roof up whilst stopped at traffic lights on the dual carriageway, not quite realising how long it would take and therefore starting to panic just a little when the lights changed and the roof was at a 90 degree angle in the air..... We panicked further when Helen couldn't restart the car (she'd left it in 'drive' when switching the engine off to raise the roof) and we couldn't find the hazard lights to warn upcoming traffic travelling at 70mph towards us that there was a black car parked in the sparsely-lit dual carriageway.... In the dark..... Cue much hysterical shrieking of "We're going to die!!!" and maniacal laughter. We finally set off again, and were glad to have stopped when we did because just five minutes later we were hit by a sandstorm (aptly as we approached the town of Hurricane, Utah) and watched in amazement as actual tumbleweeds cartwheeled across the road in front of us... Welcome to the Wild West! We finally reached the village of Rockville just outside of Zion National Park, our home for the next few nights, which we found in total darkness. Naturally, this being a dizzier-than-normal day for us, we assumed it was in darkness because it was a ghost town, NOT because the storm had caused a power cut.... (Andrew used to ask Nat how she didn't fall over more, such was his concern over her dizziness - he may have had a point...) The lack of light caused us nearly an hour of fun trying to find our house in a village strangely reticent at advertising their house numbers - at this point nearly causing a hungover Helen to go completely under. Finally we found the right house and Belen was safely checked into country park rehab.
We spent a lot of the day sightseeing from the comfort of Solange, taking in the yellow sandstone Checkerboard Mesa and the 6-mile Scenic Drive which cuts right through the heart of Zion Canyon - nearly being arrested by Park police for recklessly ignoring the 'No Cars' sign at the start of the drive, and being followed by an unhappy park ranger! We finally remembered how to use our legs, and headed up the Canyon Overlook trail with fantastic views across Zion Canyon, although Nat may have unintentionally spoilt it for Helen by mentioning that tarantulas inhabit the park, causing poor Helen to scour the terrain endlessly for any sign of her arch enemy.... We ended the day walking along the river which runs through the base of the canyon, before catching the last shuttle back along the Scenic Drive.
A death defying day! Nat's friend Steve had recommended that we attempt the Angel's Landing trail - mentioning in brief something about 'a cliff' and 'being quite high'..... The reality was spectacularly terrifying. Our Lonely Planet guides described it as 5.4 mile vertigo-inducer, with 1400ft elevation gain and sheer drop offs - we would describe it as terror-inducing climb of HELL, prompting us to discuss funeral plans with one other and last words of goodbye to our loved ones. The final 0.5 miles consisted of scrambling on hands and knees (Nat resorting to Andrew's patented crab-like side scramble for the steepest parts) along cliff ledges sometimes only a couple of foot wide, with an intermittent and frankly useless metal chain in parts. Helen seemed unperturbed by the thousand foot drop either side of us and would merrily point out things on the far-distant ground to Nat, and couldn't understand the stream of abuse she received in return, from the gibbering hysterical wreck her friend had been reduced to. Finally we reached the top to take in phenomenal views of Zion Canyon far below, and shared a last supper together overlooking the valley in case things went badly on the way back down.... Nat can only assume that her friend HATES her vehemently, for suggesting such a terrifying climb - but once on solid ground again we agreed that defying death for the experience had been totally worth it!
We set off that evening for Flagstaff, with the intention of visiting the Grand Canyon's North Rim at sunrise the next morning, but 90 minutes into the five-hour trip we chanced upon a road sign saying the North Rim was closed due to a snow storm..... WHAT??!! After some quick calculations, we figured it would be better to about-turn and return to Zion for the night, and drive to the West Rim the following day instead. After a three-hour wasted trip, we arrived back in Springdale to find the grocery store closed, and so decided on a dinner of wine at the town's saloon, The Bit & Spur, where we were regaled with tales of how the six people to die on Angel's Landing met their untimely deaths.... Uplifting stuff!
Next stop - Grand Canyon!