Our time in Utah has been great, and it's time for a recap. Starting off, we visited St. George. This was our last stop in what I call "civilization" for quite a while. By "civilization", I mean that the town/city has a Chick-Fil-A and a Walmart nearby. And St. George definitely met these two criteria. It was here that we visited our first of the "Big 5" National Parks. Zion National Park is known for its towering cliffs and mountains, and we definitely saw a lot of that! However, looking back at all of the 5 Utah National Parks, Zion was our least favorite, and here's why: Crowds. We arrived at the visitor's center to board a bus to go into the heart of Zion, we found ourselves waiting in a 1.5 hour line. Our after-shuttle-bus experience was still great. We ate lunch by a creek, hiked to a waterfall, and enjoyed some amazing scenery! If you don't already know, Zion is known for its sheer rock faces and mountainous terrain.
While staying in St. George, I also got to go on a "hike" with Nate near our campground. I put quotation marks on the word hike because we were technically trekking in wild woods without a trail. Our reason for this hike was because I wanted to film some scenes in the woods. So Nate and I followed a creek down about a third of a mile, climbing down rock ledges and trying to keep the filming equipment from falling in the creek. Finally we came to where we realized the dreadful (ok, not dreadful), truth: We'd have to cross the creek without a bridge/log. After searching for the best place to cross, I jumped in and ferried Nate and our filming equipment across. We did get some good filming in for sure. I'll remember this experience for a while, and I believe Nate will too.
Another truly spectacular experience we had in St. George was going to Snow Canyon. This is a state park that's lesser known, but still very appealing and unique. It was here that we were able to hike to see where settlers in the 1800s wrote their names on rock in axle grease. After this, we hiked to some caves where Nate and I enjoyed exploring around. There was one cave that we decided not to go into because we didn't have flashlights. It appeared (by the description on the sign) to go for a long while underground! On this hike was where we saw our first wild gila monster. If you don't know what a gila monster is, it's a very large, poisonous lizard. As we were hiking, my mom suddenly called out to me, I looked down, and quickly jumped back. The gila monster was just walking along only 3 feet away from us! Something else that we enjoyed doing was rock scrambling, especially at a slot canyon that was in Snow Canyon. Snow Canyon State Park truly had it all.
St. George was a source of yet another great place to go to: Pioneer Park. Pioneer Park is truly a natural playground. It's full of rock slopes, holes, crevices and even a slot canyon! We had a really fun time on this outing, and I definitely enjoyed the entire experience.
After staying in St. George, we traveled to Glendale. It was here that we went to Bryce Canyon National Park for the first time. Each of the National Parks is very unique. Bryce Canyon was no exception. It's known for its hoodoos. Hoodoos are tall spire like natural structures that are the product of erosion. And Bryce Canyon is full of them! We hiked about halfway into the canyon, and enjoyed some awesome scenery. Sadly, the rain prevented us from doing much more sightseeing, but what we did see was definitely breathtaking.
While in Glendale, my mom and I got the chance to go back to Zion from the other side. It was here that we were able to enjoy a lot more of Zion, because significantly less people visit the other side. We did a few hikes, and even witnessed a small herd of bighorn sheep crossing the road less than 30 feet in front of us! We definitely liked that side of Zion much better than the other side.
Another experience that we really enjoyed doing while staying in Glendale was visiting the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Many posts ago I recounted our adventures at White Sands National Park. That was really fun, but Coral Pink Sand Dunes trumps all of the dunes in White Sands. We rented sleds from the state park and waked to a (again, this is a Merchant family estimate), 100 foot tall sand dune, and enjoyed sledding down it for a few hours!
We spent Easter in Glendale. Because it is a small town, we had to look further out to find a church. Finally, we found one about 40 minutes north of us in a place called Duck Creek Village. It's important that I say north, because of what I'm about to tell you. We left Glendale in 60 degree weather, and arrived in Duck Creek Village in 29 degree weather, with a frozen lake and at least a foot and a half of snow. Check out the drastic change in the pictures below. We were astounded. It was here that we visited Aunt Sue's Chalet after the service, and to learn more about it, go back a few posts ago to "Stories Behind the Pictures: Part 2".
Utah is a truly remarkable state, and we've really enjoyed being in it. And really, it just keeps getting better and better. Stay tuned for Utah Rocks: Part 2!
When I left off, we were exiting California. This was as far west as we would be going, and we've since started our "return trip". We headed into Nevada, where we only had one stop. Henderson, Nevada is about a half hour from Las Vegas. Before everyone gets worked up about this, I'm going to say that we never once (we meaning any of the family) stepped foot in Vegas. We drove fairly close, but no, we had no lost (or gained) money from Vegas.
Now that I've cleared that up, I'll tell you what we did do. About 10 minutes down the road from our RV park was Hoover Dam. Hoover Dam is truly an engineering marvel. It helps power multiple states with its power, and holds back a massive amount of water. We walked out on the dam and the bridge, and got to see the dam from Nevada and Arizona. Both the bridge and dam really are amazing structures.
Another highlight to our time in Nevada was when we found a bike trail that was not far from our RV park. Just off the trail was a "dirt bike" course that we enjoyed riding on a lot. We enjoyed jumping and zooming on the course.
Our time in Nevada was definitely fun, and we'd have liked to stay longer. But our time is running short, so we headed for Utah! To be continued...
California is a huge state. If you've been, you know that it has dozens of neat, unique activities in each city. After leaving the San Diego area, we headed to Joshua Tree National Park.
I think all of us really enjoyed Joshua Tree, and it has been named by the Merchant Voting Association, our favorite National Park yet. We were able to actually climb on rocks here, which is a huge change from our previous visits to National Parks, where you're not allowed to climb or stray off the path. Also, the Joshua Trees themselves were incredibly exotic and very neat. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Joshua Tree National Park. Our campground there was also very nice. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I've been filming videos a lot on this trip. At the Joshua Tree campground, I was able to film a Star Wars Fan Film. The campground was almost totally empty, and it made for some good filming grounds. Overall, we really enjoyed the Joshua Tree stop.
Our next destination was Los Angeles. Here, we were able to visit the Hillsong Church campus in downtown L.A. The members of this church were very passionate for the Lord, and the whole experience was great.
I also got the chance to go on the Warner Bro.'s Studio Tour with my dad. It was incredible. We were able to see sets from Jurassic World, the TV show Friends, the Ellen Degeneres show, and even a spot where they filmed the very last clip of the new Marvel movie, Captain Marvel. On top of all this, we saw costumes and props used in the Harry Potter movies, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This was one of my favorite experiences on the entire trip, since I've been making videos of my own!
Also while in Los Angeles, we got to eat with some family, Marsha and Rick Cook and their immediate family. We really enjoyed our time with them, and were able to have some great conversations.
One of the main reasons that we visited L.A. was to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The library was really neat, and we were able to go inside the Air Force One and Marine One that President Reagan rode. It was a very neat, interactive museum that we all (speaking for the elder 3 of the family) enjoyed.
After Los Angeles, we traveled to Monterey. This was where we met our friends, the Maxwells, from back home in Atlanta. They were very kind to fly out and spend their spring break with us. We were able to catch up on a bunch of stuff, and we (the kids) were able to play a lot of games and play at the playground.
With the Maxwells, we had the chance to see the giant Redwood trees. I was in awe at just how big they were! There was one tree that was partly hollowed out and had fallen. We got to climb partly into it. In fact, Nate could walk in it for little ways.
With the Maxwell family, we took a side trip to San Francisco for a couple of days. I've been to New York City, and thought that San Francisco would be a lot like that, but it really is incomparable with other cities that I've seen. We were staying near Fisherman's Wharf, where we ate some delicious food, and caught some great views of the bay. Near Fisherman's Wharf is Ghirardelli Square. It was here that we sampled chocolate, bought ice cream, and enjoyed a quick rest from the steep hills of San Francisco. While on the subject of ice cream, we'd highly recommend Over the Moon Creamery in San Francisco. They had amazing ice cream. Even better than Ghiradelli. Case closed. The people have spoken.
We were also able to tour the remote prison, Alcatraz. Alcatraz, if you don't know, is an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, housing what used to be a maximum security prison. This was a very entertaining and interesting tour, and we got to hear about the cells, breakouts, the guards and their families, and much much more!
We very much enjoyed our time with the Maxwell family, and were very sad when they left, especially knowing that it'd be 3+ months before we saw them again.
After visiting Monterey, we traveled to Bakersfield. We had a few unique experiences there. Our first one began when an acquaintance of my dad's, Mr. Pearsey, invited us to a screening of the movie Breakthrough. He held this screening for first responders in Bakersfield, and invited us to see it. If you haven't seen this movie, I'd highly recommend seeing it. My dad and I very much enjoyed watching it, and a are very grateful to Mr. Pearsey. (My mom stayed back with Nate, because the movie wasn't appropriate for him.) Mr. Pearsey also graciously invited us to his Bible study group on a Wednesday night, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there. Everybody was very welcoming, and they quickly came around us as friends, instead of quick acquaintances.
Also in Bakersfield, we visited an orange grove. We weren't able to pick any, but were able to watch the already picked ones getting cleaned, sorted and packaged.
Bakersfield was our last stop in California. Our entire time in that state was filled with good memories. We did a lot there, and are grateful to all those who showed us hospitality. If you've been to California, comment below what your favorite part was!
You probably know that our trip is fast coming to a close, and we still have things we want to do. I interviewed everyone in the family (including myself) about what they want our final months to look like, and some other questions.
1. What is one activity we have not done yet on the trip that you would like to do?
Will: Rafting with the whole family.
Nate: Ride a horse.
Beth: Kayak and/or raft, see the stars in a remote location, read a book.
Ash: Some type of boating activity: kayak, rafting/tubing, motor-boating, etc.
2. What is an activity we have done already on the trip that you'd like to do again?
Will: Get some alone time with each of my parents (going out to lunch, going to a movie, etc.)
Nate: Bike a few miles.
Beth: Off road vehicles, exploring, hiking, spending time hanging together outside the RV.
Ash: Off roading in an ATV. We had a blast a few days ago on this activity.
3. What are some characteristics/skills you have learned on the trip that you want to carry back home with you?
Will: My movie making skills that I've honed in the last few months.
Nate: Hand stands and cartwheels.
Beth: Flexibility, endurance, creativity.
Ash: Greater confidence in do-it-yourself maintenance; better appreciation for the flexibility required when changes in life happen, greater appetite for doing and trying things outside of my comfort zone.
4. What do you think will be the hardest part of transitioning back to Atlanta?
Will: Losing my dad full time; jumping back into a "normal" schedule.
Nate: Unpacking all of our stuff ('cause it'll probably take us about an hour) and selling the RV.
Beth: Getting back to a set routine (things such as appointments, meetings, errands); not having Ash full time.
Ash: Getting adjusted to a world where I am working more and recreating less than I am this year, on our adventure. Being with my family over the year has been a real blessing, and I will never regret taking a pause of life to spend this time with them.
Overall, we have generally the same thoughts on each of the questions, obviously personalized for each one. It's been a real adventure, and we're looking forward to ending it well!
Will is 15, and enjoys running track, writing,