Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Travel: Zion National Park, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon

After a few days in Las Vegas, we picked up our campervan and headed off for a week exploring some of the national parks in the surrounding area.

I was both excited and nervous; excited because I’d never seen anything like the Grand Canyon before, but nervous that somehow between us we had to drive a huge campervan. On the wrong side of the road. In a place with different road rules. Plus, I’d only ever had one camping experience with Tom before, and let’s just say he wasn’t the happiest camper!

When we were first planning our trip to the US we knew that we would need to hire some kind of vehicle for this stint of the journey, but we were mostly looking at cars, with the intention of staying in B&Bs along the way.

Car hire alone is a lot of money, and that’s without taking into consideration the fact that we were both under 25 and would want to insure two drivers on the car. It also became apparent that accommodation in these areas was not cheap, at all.

So that’s when we decided to look at campervan hire, and we came across Escape Campervans. As well as being more drivable vehicles than RVs (which seemed to be our other option), Escape Campervans don’t charge any extra for being under 25 and there is no additional cost per driver, meaning we could share the driving.

And look how amazing the design was!

The back of the van converted from a table and chairs into a double-sized bed. Through the back doors there was a sink, a gas cooker and a small fridge. Although, we ended up not using the fridge because having it switched on made the sleeping area too hot.

Unfortunately our first driving experience in the van was not made any easier by various things going wrong. We had been driving for about half an hour when we got a flat tyre. As if getting a flat tyre in a place you don’t know on a vehicle you don’t know how to use isn’t bad enough, we were stuck on the side of a highway in the boiling hot desert.

After a two hour wait on the side of the road, we had the tyre replaced and thought we were back on track to reach our campsite near Zion before dark. And the roads were becoming more and more scenic by the minute. We had hired a GPS from the rental company too, and were using it to find our way to Zion, through the national park and out the other side to the campsite.

But luck was not on our side, and we got caught in a hail storm, heavier than anything I’ve ever experienced before. We (Tom) continued to drive slowly down the road we were on, but we couldn’t really see a thing and the road seemed to be changing into more of a gravel/dirt track. The hail forced us to become slower and slower and that’s when we got stuck. We’d sunk so deep into the track that even the power of huge van couldn’t move us forwards.

Somehow, Tom managed to reverse us out of the hole we’d dug and get back onto the normal road surface. We worked out that the GPS was trying to take us around the edge of the national park in order to avoid the toll road through it, which is why we ended up where we were.

Eventually we made it to Zion, and it was so much more beautiful and impressive than I had imagined. But for now we just had to pass through, it was getting dusky by this point and we were completely exhausted.

We stayed at Mount Carmel RV Park, which we had booked in advance. It was very small, but there was a shower and it was perfectly located for what we needed.

The next morning we headed back into the park. It costs $30 to drive into/through the park, but the pass lasts up to seven days. We parked the van in Springdale, which is the little village in Zion, and got one of the free shuttle buses to the visitor centre. The shuttle buses go all over the national park, and are so efficient!

We decided to do an easy and then medium difficulty trails (the Emerald Pools and the Kayenta Trail). On reflection we probably could have done something a little more challenging, but we were playing it safe because we didn’t really have any concept of how difficult things were or what our capabilities were. I’m sure the photos speak for themselves, but Zion is so beautiful and I would definitely love to go back.

Our next stop on this trip was Monument Valley, so we got up fairly early the following day because we needed to find somewhere to get the spare tyre replaced on the way.

After a two-hour wait at Walmart in Paige for the tyre, we drove a little further to a place called Horseshoe Bend. So worth the little hike from the road to the edge of the cliff.

We arrived at Monument Valley late in the afternoon and found our way to Gouldings Campground. This was a lot bigger than our campsite at Zion, and it had a small shop, loads of showers and even an indoor pool.

There were a lot of tours available from the campsite, but they were very pricey, so we decided to wait until the following morning and drive around the monuments ourselves. I think there was still a charge for this, but it was minimal in comparison to the tours.

After taking lots of photos of the monuments we began our drive to the Grand Canyon, stopping at some scenic viewpoints owned by the Navajo Tribe on the way.

Our campsite in the Grand Canyon National Park, Mather Campground, was my favourite place we stayed. The site was amongst forest and the pitches were nicely spread out. Staying in the Grand Canyon National Park kind of reminded me of staying somewhere like Center Parcs, only on the edge of a canyon, and minus all the facilities.

The night we arrived it was mine and Tom’s seven year anniversary so we gave ourselves a break from spaghetti hoops and went to one of the hotel’s restaurants, which was really lovely.

As we had a couple of days here, on our first day we kept it easy and stuck to the rim walk, which literally just follows the rim of the canyon.

And on our second day we did a slightly more intense hike on the Kaibab trail. It was quite a lot more challenging, and we went as far as your allowed to go down the canyon (and back up) in one day, to Cedar Ridge.

Photos just don’t do the immensity of the Grand Canyon justice. I hadn’t expected it to be such an expanse of landscape; I think I thought it would be more like the scenes we’d seen at the Horseshoe Bend.

This kind of marked the end of our journey, and we had to begin to make our way back to Vegas to return the campervan. But there were still some more sights to see on the way.

Our first stop was Seligman, which was on the historic Route 66, the road which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. It was basically a parade of tourist shops, but it was cool to see, and it broke up the journey a little.

Just before we reached our final campsite at Lake Mead, we stopped at the Hoover Dam. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area, although I wouldn’t pay to go in the visitor centre, as there wasn’t much there. That is unless you are there for the day and opt to do a tour.

Our campsite at Lake Mead was completely deserted, and the temperatures were a lot hotter than what we’d been used to for the past week, so sleeping in the van that night was pretty uncomfortable. The lake is really scenic, although we didn’t think much of the ‘beach’, which was very sludgy.

All in all, we had an amazing week in the campervan. It was such a worthwhile experience and was probably my favourite part of our trip. If you want to see more of the incredible places we visited, I've made a vlog of the week

After returning the van, we hopped onto a five-hour coach to LA, the final stop of our trip (insert all the sad faces).


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