East, ever East….to Texas!

One of the great thing about having family in Texas is that it’s a great place to go to play with all the kids….and also a great break from the road to Key West.  With Sarah, Ryan and their kids in San Antonio and Amanda, Brandon and their brood in Austin, we have ample reason to stop in the Lone Star State.  It’s not all about H-E-B and Buc-ees.  (You’ll understand if you visit).

The road East to Texas from Tucson was easy, with a stop first at a winery in El Paso for a night, and then New Years Eve in Marfa.   Marfa’s an interesting place in the middle of nowhere West Texas.  It’s where the film “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean was filmed. Also, No Country For Old Men and There Will be Blood, if you need more recent references.

Today Marfa is a combination of very rural agricultural town with a hipster enclave from all the artistic types who have moved in, lured by the low cost of land…and the West Texas light.  Makes for an interesting mix.

We pulled into Bulverde, north of San Antonio, to squeals and hugs from Brooklyn, Jaxon and Ryder. Love Sarah and Ryan and the kids.  It’s so nice to just hang with the kids, once the excitement of arrival wears off.  You actually get time to talk to them…a little more quietly.

Brooklyn, Jaxon and Ryder Winger

After a few days it was time to point the rig north to Austin to see Eleanor, Hendrik and Lennox. Oh right, and Amanda and Brandon. 

The Mueller District in Austin where they live is such an interesting experiment in redevelopment….with homes, townhouses, apartments and retail all being built in walkable neighborhoods.   They live right on the edge of the “current” build.  Infill is happening all around.  Easy to park a trailer on the street today, but it will not always be so.

One thing I love about Amanda is her practical side. She was thinking about hosting a big Tuesday evening New Years Eve Bash for friends. But then she looked at the calendar, and the idea of staying up past midnight, and said “The heck with that.”  We’ll have the party early on Saturday evening so it can end at a reasonable hour for people who have kids.  Love it.   Adding spice was that it was a 1920’s Murder Mystery Party.  Everyone had a role, and someone was going to be “bumped off”.     Knowing she could trust my big mouth, Amanda cast me as a Gangland Mob Boss.   As you might guess, I did not survive the night.

After hugs and kisses the next morning, it was time to point the rig east toward Key West.   Well, first to a brewery North of Houston where they let you stay the night.  Have I mentioned Harvest Host?

Parking at Fortress Brewing

Christmas in Idaho

One reason we went to Tucson was it was the perfect place to stash the trailer while we drove up to Idaho to spend a few weeks for Christmas with family at Fairfield and Corral Creek Ranch. Weather is so nice all we had to do was clean it, park it, and leave the refrigerator door ajar. No winterizing needed as we’d be back in just a few weeks.

We broke up the trip staying the night in St. George, Utah. As I’ve said before, we’re old and don’t like fourteen hour days on the road anymore.

We arrived in Fairfield on a Saturday night, just in time for the American Legion’s Christmas party, with none other than Joe Henry Valadeo tending bar down in the dungeon.

Karin pours her own drink, so she can drink it. They have a heavy hand on the bottle down in the Dungeon.

Time in Fairfield is always filled with fun, family, and food. And this time, since we arrived early, we also got volunteers at the local Senior Center to help with lunch, and got to go to our nieces and nephews high school basketball games.

Christian flew in from Seattle in time for the big party celebrating Josh’s Birthday and Karin and my fortieth wedding anniversary. Really, forty years? Yep. And we decided to glam it up for the evening. Champagne went to our heads I guess. Still, it made for another fantastic Christmas in Idaho.

Quiet Christmas Morning at Corral Creek Ranch
Snowing in Fairfield

After Christmas it was time to jet back down to Tucson to get the trailer moving toward Key West again, stopping for a night in St. George, Utah….where they had a lovely light show.

Tucson and Saguaro National Park

Driving down to Tucson was pretty easy and weather was good. The only real issue was trying to avoid all the traffic in Phoenix.  But once through that, it was quick down to Tucson.

So we were a little worried as Phoenix was hot, kinda flat, very busy, and not very interesting to look at.  But Tucson was none of that.  The desert floor had green foliage (yes it’s cactus but so many kinds) and the mountains closed in on the valley, making everything seem closer; more intimate.

You have to love a city bracketed by National Parks.  In this case, the Saguaro  National Park.  It’s in two parts….one East of town and one West.  We took time to go for a walk in the Eastern most park.  It was lovely.

Then of course we went to find a beer.

We talked to the brewer, and she said there were 23 breweries in town, and we visited a few while there.  Oh, we need to come back.  We need to be here for a month, maybe more, and hike the other half of Saguaro National Park…and, of course, find more of the breweries.

Bicycling is also a thing in Tucson.  Bike paths all over the place.  We, unfortunately, did not bring our road bikes just our town bikes.  Something to consider for the next trip…but can we get away with bringing 2 bikes each?  It seems like overkill. Only not.

So in Tucson we said in a place called Voyager RV Resort.

This was our first real encounter with the world of snowbirds, the older folk who leave the cold North in the Winter and camp for months in Arizona…and as we’ll learn later Florida. Calling it camping is a little silly actually. This is a resort where you park your rig, hook up to every and all service available, and then wait out the winter.

This resort is amazing. It has three pools, sauna, spa, massage service, and a small hotel if you have visitors and you don’t want them in your rig. It has tennis, golf, pickle ball, shuffleboard, boccie, basketball courts and horse shoes. It also has the most amazing collections of hobby rooms I’ve ever seen. Woodshop, better than pro. Photo studio, got that. Computer room, and services on site. Pottery, three kilns. Sewing, bring your machine or use theirs. Think I’m done? Not by half. They have silversmiths, jewelry making, lapidary, stained glass making, oil painting, watercolors, quilting, knitting, crochet, and if your fingers are sore, machine embroidery. Amazing.

The place has it’s own store and it’s own Bar and Grill. But, we’re all older now. The busy time is five pm, and when we went there was already a crowd in the bar doing karaoke….and I mean really getting fired up.

But this being older folk…by nine PM…it’s a ghost town. Ah, cruisers midnight.

Now the truth is, this is not really our kind of place. It’s a little sterile. And we felt like we were younger than this crowd by at least years. We like being in the woods, or the desert. That said, I can see the allure of a place that caters to your needs as you age, and where you can meet all kinds of other folks going through the same things you are. I get it. We’re just not there…yet.

 

Joshua Tree National Park…watch for jumping Cholla

Just East of Palm Springs is Joshua Tree National Park.

Everyone says they love Joshua Tree National Park and for good reason.  What a wonderful area.  We were able to spend a night in Cottonwood Campground with only a few other campers in the entire campground. 

This part of Joshua Tree has quite diverse flora and fauna.  The flora we were impresses with.  Unfortunately the fauna viewing was limited to a desert rabbit and a few birds.  We clearly need to work a bit harder on this.   

We took a short hike from Lost Palms Oasis.  This is an easy hike with lots of interesting views and cool plants.  We had to keep it short due to my bum hip but hope to return and have a longer walk in the wilderness. 

Rock formations in Joshua Tree

We were able to drive up from the southeast entrance (Cottonwood Visitor Center) almost to the northwest entrance (Joshua Tree Visitor Center).  The Rock formations were interesting (very round) and we would like to try camping nearby next time we visit. 

The micro-climates allows for lots of similar plants to congregate in certain areas.  For example, the Joshua Trees are only in the northwest section of the park, not the entire park. 

There’s also a cactus garden that has a natural concentration of the Cholla cactus.  You can find them all over but here they’ve taken over a small area.  The conditions must be just perfect for them to thrive at this density at this spot.

This is certainly a place to visit if you ever get a chance.  We’ll go back.

On the road again….just can’t wait to get on the road again….

OK, November in Anacortes was nice. We got to catch up with family and friends and repack the bearings on the trailer. But after Thanksgiving weekend we were off again on our grand winter adventure to Key West.

So when you start from Anacortes…on December first…with the goal being in Key West, you really have to think about the route.  Go too direct and you could run into some really nasty winter weather.  We decided to go conservative.  First up; South and fast as possible. That means I-5 down to Oregon.  We did it in one day, all the way South of Suzy and Tom’s place in Yoncolla. The next day was clear at the Siskyou Summit, so we gunned it all the way down past Shasta to Red Bluff in the Central Valley.  Nice, we’re past the snow.  Next day we did the entire Central Valley to Santa Clarita and the next day we skipped North to the Mojave allowing us to miss LA as we dropped into Palm Springs.  Our first visit.

So Palm Springs.  OK, I get why folks come here.  It’s warm in December, and there are tons of citrus trees in backyards loaded with fruit…that’s ready to be plucked.  Dan Heck, our financial guru, and his wife have a house down here in a gated community (and they are all gated) and he called the gate and told them to let us in.  He wanted us to go pick his grapefruit.  They were awesome.  We felt greedy filling up on them, but after we had a  few, we decided we should have gotten more.

Mountains are nice in Palm Springs, but you drive…a lot.

We did some driving around Palm Springs…which is your only choice.  Well, bicycling would be possible….but only as exercise.  Lots of guys in race suits and on aero bikes.   It is definitely a place that caters to older, more seasoned, people.  Lots of medical clinics that cater to the ills of the elderly.

After Palm Springs, our plan was to head to Tucson, Arizona to poke around there for a few days, and then store the trailer there while we jet north to Idaho for Christmas.  More on that in a bit.

You could gun it all the way from Palm to Tucson in one day, but that would suck. We’re old people.   And hey, Joshua Tree National Park is on the way.   So when we left, we only went about 40 miles to the National Park and camped in a lovely spot.    It allowed us the chance to get into the park and look around.  Beautiful.   We’ll be back.

Then it was time to head East.  Tucson here we come.

November on the Boat…but now off again

After all the fall camping around the West, it almost felt odd to be back on the boat.  It was important to come home though so Karin could deal with her sore hip. More chiropractic and plans for finding help out on the road if she needs it.

It was also a month of spending more time with Mom and BD. Since Karin was having twice a week chiropratic appointments in Mount Vernon, it was easy to skip down the highway a few miles to see them.  It also game Karin a chance to set up sewing machines to finish Christmas Stockings and a few other similar projects.

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We found the time to run over to Port Townsend on the Ferry to see Jim and Shirley Runkel. They had their motorhome over there for some work and were staying at Point Hudson.

After putting 12,000 miles on the trailer since we got it, it was also time for a little routine maintenance.   I was going to try to repack the wheel bearings myself. Always good to learn. But then I thought about the fact that it is cold, I don’t have a shop, garage or clean place to work, and it would take a long day since I’d be learning. In the end I got JR to do it. Money for time. But now Dewey is ready to role.   And since we hit 30,000 on the truck, we had that inspection done too.  Now the whole rig is as ready as possible.  Oh and one more rig related thing. We took the break to solve something that has bothered us since day one. We found nice replacement faucets for the kitchen and bathroom in the trailer that are made of metal. The process to replace them literally took 30 minutes, with most of that time spent unloading the items in the cabinets that were in the way.  Nice!   Arctic Fox makes a nice rig, but how about real faucets as an option? That would be one I would have paid for.

Seems the holidays just speed up everything. The last week has been a blur.  We met with all the Scout parents on Monday in Edmonds. Wednesday Christian and Kim came up to have dinner with us and my sister Rebecca and her husband Jeff.  Christian and Kim spent the night on the boat before heading off to Thanksgiving with her family down on Whidbey Island.  We met at Mom and BDs for Thanksgiving dinner.  It was probably the first she hosted for family in two or more decades. 

Is was great to have Rebecca and Jeff around. I know Mom and BD loved it.

Friday we went to Woodinville to see Ethel and Louie, Chris and Jen German.  Always a hoot.   Then we came home and moved the trailer out of the storage yard and into service at a nearby campground.  It’s good to do this a few days before you leave.  There’s no rushing and it seems easier. 

I had a bug, but Karin got to play with Theo on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Oh right, and she saw our niece Lara and Keith, Theo’s mom and dad.  Ok, so her sister Judy and Mom Millie too.   But lets face it, Theo’s the star. 

Theo and Aunt Karin

All that’s left is to push off for more adventure.

 

 

 

 

Home, but not for long

We arrived back on the boat in Anacortes just in time for Halloween. It will be a short one month stay to do a little cleaning on the boat and prepping it for us to be gone until summer.  No worries though. Friends on the dock will keep an eye on her, and we have a boat-watcher who’ll come in regularly to run the engine and check all systems.

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The good news is that everything was fine, no mold, no smells. All we needed to do was close at the cabinets and fire up the heaters.   And for the first two weeks of November it’s been amazingly sunny and dry.

November 10th the Seattle Sounders made Toronto cry and gave us another MSL Championship.  We watched at Union, one of our favorite local hangs.

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OK, now it’s mid November and The Big Dark has officially begun.  Rain, mist, rain, getting dark at 4pm.  Where’s my coffee and dark beer.    The good news is that while we’ve been gone Bastion Brewing has taken up BBQ…and someone knows his or her way around a pit.  It’s great.  That and their lovely beers will get us through.

While we stay on the boat we’ve also been cleaning up the trailer, getting bearings re-packed for the next long road run.  We’ve also been getting the truck’s standard maintenance done so we can hit the road with all systems tuned and working

Being here has also given us time to hang with Mom and BD. We’ve been stopping by every few days both to see them and so Karin and use Mom’s space and machine to do some sewing.  She’s finished more Christmas stockings, altered some of our “Santa Gear” and even gotten around to restoring the quilt she first made for Christian 30 years ago when he was a kid.  It was on his bed all his growing up and even at the UW.  He used it so long the edges were all tattered.  Well, not any more.  Yes Christian, she does love you.

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Sequoia and Yosemite

From Tehachapi, we headed North to an Army Corp of Engineers campground on Kaweah Lake, just outside Sequoia National Park.  It was a great place to stop for two days and NOT try to bring our 30 foot trailer into an old national park.  One thing about national parks. The older, the smaller the roads and campground sites.

Once we were in the park we looked at the campground, and were glad we left the trailer at a much more spacious place only a few miles outside.

Sequoia National Park did not disappoint. 

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The climb up to the grove of Giants was breathtaking, and once  you were in the trees, their massive size was also awe inspiring. 

You can’t walk about the massive General Sherman tree (the largest living tree in the world) without thinking that the United States entire history has happened in this tree’s lifetime, and it’s still getting bigger every year.

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We still had a day to kill before our reservation at Yosemite Lakes so we once again turned to Harvest Host to find a winery where we could park for free…and drink wine.

Twisted Oak winery is an 18 year old place on top of a Sierra Nevada foothill near Sonora, CA. They have a lovely wine shop and three friendly wine cats who want to say hello…and probably “try the Tempernillo.” 

Their production winery is open sided, and has a cave for fermentation. The fall crush is going on, so we got to see the winemakers working their open vats. When they are done, they us gravity to drain the tanks down to oak barrels in the cave so the wine can develop.

Needless to say, we found some wines we liked. 

Then promptly at 5:30pm, they all left for the day and we were left alone on the top of the hill to watch the Sierra Nevada sunset. A herd of deer wandered by, and whole lot of wild turkeys too.  It was magic.

The next day we were off to our first Thousand Trails park. We bought a TT camping pass this year to find out if this system of paying an annual membership once….and no fees when you stay at a park can work for us.    We’re not really RV park folk…but the ability to come into parks all across the country and stay a few days (or 2 weeks) to recharge, fill and dump, do laundry, and not pay anything may be a good deal.

Yosemite Lakes RV Park seems pretty nice, though really the camp sites are way too close for what we might actually want for “real” camping.  But we’ planned to be away in the park, or gone all day on chores, so who cares if neighbors are close; so long as they are quiet.    And camping in the shoulder season means there are fewer campers…and less noise and crowds. So far, this is a good test.  The laundry was large and clean.  There are all the normal hookups. Wireless coverage is zero, but they have WIFI that was ok.  And rather than pay as much as $200 for 4 nights….we pay Zero.   So far, Thousand Trails is ok.  We’ll try another park on the way home.

Yosemite National Park.  

What is there to say really. It’s phenomenal, just as it was 35 years ago when we brought the kids here.  It’s also crowded as hell, just as it was 35 years ago.  But with all of our recent NP experience, we decided to leave before dawn and arrive in the park as the sun came up.  The goal was to beat the expected crowds.

In a word, it worked.  We were not alone when we arrived, but there was not a lot of traffic, parking was easy to find, and when we did walk across Swinging Bridge, where the kids saw hang gliders landing 35 years ago, we were all alone.  

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That big field where the gliders landed is closed now to recover from all the people walking on it.   A lot of the work going on now in Yosemite is about recovering the park from all the human damage from so many visitors.  It’s great to see paths pulled back from the edges of the Merced River and the riprap pulled out so the river can meander in the spring floods….as it was meant to do.   Good stewardship!

As the sun started going higher in the sky, so did the volume of traffic in the park.  People were arriving.

We easily got a spot at the visitor center and got to look at exhibits. By the time we were done, the parking lot was jammed.  It was only 10am.  We had been there for several hours now, and started to get itchy from the traffic.

On our way out of the park we stopped to watch the climbers on El Capitain.   As you look at the 3000 foot sheer granite face you can’t see anything.   Then you spot a dot along a crack, and think…that might be a climber.   When you get your binoculars you can finally confirm, yes. That is a climber. Oh, wait, it’s two climbers, and there’s another one above them. 

As you continue up the cracks in the face you realize there are dozens and dozens of climbers on the face, at all different levels.  You can see some just getting out of hanging tents where they spent the night, others nearing the top, and still more near the bottom. They are just getting going. 

It’s amazing to watch, and to think about going up there willingly. 

They are crazy of course.  And yes, we’ve seen the documentary “Free Solo.”  He’s especially crazy. Amazing, for sure. But still crazy.  It’s a good documentary. If you have fear of heights, you may not be able to watch it.

Finally we were on our way out of the park.  The traffic coming in against us, backing up at intersections and at the Park Entrance convinced us again that our strategy was correct.  Come to the bit destination National Parks early to avoid crowds.

After four days of resting up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I think it’s time for wine. Onward to the Russian River area North of San Francisco.  We’re bending homeward…but it’s raining up there.  Along the Russian River it’s in the 80s.

 

 

 

 

Vegas and Tehachapi

One thing has become clear. Karin needs her chiropractor.

All the walking in National Parks has aggravated Karin’s hip, and we needed to get to a Gonstead Chiropractor, and the nearest we could find was in Las Vegas. While she managed getting medical files from home down to the clinic in North Las Vegas, I was charged with finding somewhere to stay.

And it turns out the best place to stay with your RV in Las Vegas is, and I did not see this coming, the Clark County Gun Range.

shooting center

I know. Who knew?

Turns out the Clark County Shooting Park (calling it a gun range is selling it way short) is the largest shooting complex in the country, if not the world.   Las Vegas is in the bottom of a big bowl, and Clark County has built this facility to the north of town just as you begin to rise out of the valley.  It’s the very last thing before you reach the Mojave desert and the Desert Wildlife Refuge reaching up to the northern hilltop. It’s unlikely any more building will happen nearby.

When they put in the trap and skeet lines the county also built a long line of full RV hookups. 

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Sure it’s gravel, but it’s also only $25 a night.

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Once shooting is done, its a quiet, secure, place to stay with full hook ups, great cell coverage. In the morning you get to see the sun hit the red rock mountains to the West.  If you’re into Vegas, you’re only 14 miles from the strip. It’s not my thing, but to each his or her own.  20191011_153652_thumb1It was perfectly placed to get Karin to the chiropractor for an adjustment.

With Karin “adjusted” we decided to head for Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks….by way of Tehachapi.  That meant joining the schlep of folks leaving Las Vegas to the South on the main highway to LA.   Before turning right at Barstow, we came across the solar power plant where there are acres and acres of reflective mirrors focusing light on a central tower where the sun’s rays concentrated to heat water, make steam, and drive generators.  I’ve seen pictures before but to see it in person is amazing.  There are so many mirrors concentrating the light that you can see it all coming together around the towers.  I assume it’s lighting up dust to make it look like this.

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Amazing.

We stopped in Tehachapi again as it’s a great waypoint between the Mojave Desert and the Central Valley of California.  The little RV park along the glider airport is away from the town and noise of the freeway and allows you a front row seat of all the action in the sky.  All day Sunday gliders were being towed into the sky and the after 10 minutes of soaring they’d silently swoop in for a landing right out our back window.

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We also happened to land in town the weekend of the Tehachapi Apple Festival…which was small town fun at it’s best.

Yes, that last photo is Karin buying me a piece of apple TehachaPIE. I suspect Tehachapi will be a regular stop for us when ever we head East via the Southern Route.

Zion National Park is always busy

First, Zion National Park is stunning, and everyone who can should visit.  Second, everyone seems to know about point number one, and they are all coming to visit. That makes for one damn crowded park, even in the off season.

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It has been fun visiting Bryce Canyon, Capital Reefs, and Zion National Parks in Southern Utah.  And we’re clearly coming back, as we still have to see Arches, Moab, and Cayonlands. This trip has seemed not so much our first visit to this area, which is it, as it’s a “training” visit that teaches you how busy these stunning parks are, and make you realize that they will always be busy so you need to find strategies around the crowds.

So Zion, specifically, is interesting as you enter it via a long skinny town to the south, Springdale.  You have been in rural Utah a long time to get here, but the minute you’re in Springdale, you see the “Pay to Park” kiosk everyone, just like in a big city.

You need to be looking for parking immediately because I assure you, unless it’s 7am, the Zion parking lots will be full before you get to them.  The cool thing is there’s a free bus shuttle that runs up through town and lets you off right at the park entrance. 

Finding parking is a timing question really. The Zion lot will be full, but street parking will start filling from the park entrance back down through town, forcing you to take a longer shuttle ride up town.   We arrived at about 9:30am, and just as we were approaching the park I could see up ahead traffic bogging down. So I ducked to the open street parking right where I was, and we only had a short walk to the entrance.  By the time we left around 2pm, all street parking was jammed.  It was early October, on a Tuesday. I suspect times for the parking jam will vary by season.

Approaching the park entrance, you go through the gauntlet of tourist shops, coffee shops, and an outfitting service. Cross a bridge and you’re at the entrance pergola where you pay to get it (or in our case show our annual pass. I can’t wait for my birthday next year as I’ll finally be able to buy my lifetime pass). Then, of course,  you get into the line for the Park Shuttle bus.  Think airport security line.  There are a lot of people, and many have on the same rubber hiking boots and are carrying a staff. Hmm, more on that later.

Turns out Zion is so busy it has it’s own bus that goes all the way up the canyon, letting out out at various Park hot spots; the Museum, The Zion Lodge, The Grotto, and finally the last stop.  From there you walk the last mile up the entrance to “The Narrows.”    And when the shuttle is running, they don’t allow any private cars. 

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The Narrows is one of the most famous features of Zion, where the red canyon walls come together with only the North fork of the Virgin river that carved the canyon spilling out between them. This is where the rubber hiking boots come in.  It’s very possible to continue into The Narrows for many miles with the canyon’s towering walls arching over your head, blotting out the sky they are so close.  But for the most part, the trail is just the river itself. If you don’t have rubber hiking boots, and that staff the outfitters give you when they give you the boots, you can’t really go on.

We didn’t get into The Narrows this trip as we didn’t have the boots, and Karin’s hip issue started acting up when we were out on the hiking trail, making even normal walking painful. She had to make the call on the hike as to when we had to turn around just to make sure she could get back to the shuttle.  It’s frustrating for her.

One hike we didn’t do is Angels Landing That’s about 2/3 of the way up the canyon and is one of Zion’s featured walks.  It’s a hike that’s about _ miles from the road, and goes just about straight up…to where angels would land if they were visiting from heaven. There is a long slope up to the base of the zig zagging switchbacks that were designed by the Park’s first Superintendent. The zigzags are an amazing climb in their own right, but they are only there to get people up to the real challenge, the ridge that takes you up to Angels Landing itself.   This ridge has a 1300 foot sheer drop on one side, and 900 foot sheer drop on the other side.  Did I mention the ridge is about 3-4 feet wide? There are posts with a chain running down the middle, and they point out you “WILL” be holding on to the chain at all times.

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So one thing we learned that we will definitely do next time is to bring our bicycles into the park.  All the shuttle buses have bike racks.  The way to get some space in Zion is to let them carry your bicycle up all the way, lock it up and go on hikes, and then ride your bicycle back down the valley.