The Great Oblication: Zion National Park

Our trip to Utah’s five national parks got wildly off course. We drove past Canyonlands. We drove past Canyon Reef. We drove past Bryce. And we just kept on going. The gravitational pull of Zion was a force so strong we couldn’t ignore it. Plans bend and twist and fold. And when they do, you have roll with the punches. We realized our goal were completely overzealous. Dragging kids from park to park in such a short period of time was crazy. But we didn’t realize it until we got there and pushed their little legs from here to there and everywhere. As long as we were together and making the most of this oblication (a trip you’re obligated to take that you also turn into a vacation), well, that what counts. So to heck with doing it all. We’d skip the rest and aim for the best.

But first it was time to roll into our next home away from home, our Hampton By Hilton just outside of Zion National Park in Springdale. We were exhausted from white water rafting along the Colorado River, still in our rafting gear. We needed hot showers and clean beds. Tomorrow would come fast, especially because we needed to start early, according to every guide we came across. And with the hotel being just one mile away from Zion, it was all do-able. Until the following morning came and we were exhausted. We doddled. We lingered. We started later than we should have. But we filled ourselves with breakfast, the kids making waffle art. And we headed out for this place we’d tossed all our plans aside for. This Zion.

What was it about Zion that was so great? It was the first thing people mentioned when we said we were going on the trip. It was the first thing that popped up as we did research on the trip. It was this thing we simply HAD to see. And inside of it was something called the Narrows. Fresh water that ran through the canyons that you could walk through. It sounded interesting enough.

Sure, the Narrows required special water shoes that were the kind of unspeakable ugly I won’t get into that we snagged at the local shop called Hoodoos just outside the park that happened to have killer sandwiches, as well. It was also where we snagged touristy stuff like tees. Jorge put together an outfit that kept us laughing every time we looked at him for too long.

Sure, the Narrows required waiting in an epic bus line to get to them. Sure, we got on the wrong bus and wound up at the start of the park rather than the end of it. But then we saw it. And it all made sense.

Here, in the middle of these canyons that dwarfed us, was the peaceful serenity of a rippling river, flowing through. It was the kind of thing you only see in movies and wonder where in the actual world that exists until you find it and realize you’ve just discovered one of those little paradises God created with the flick of a wrist just for those who were adventurous enough to seek it. And here we were smack in the middle of it. And it was beautiful.

The water was dark and murky, leaving what’s beneath it a secret. Until you step in and realize the bottom is loaded with large, uneven river rocks. Between the scattered rocks and the rushing waters, the hike is a complete balancing act, of which we did leaning all over each other. It’s probably wise to bring a walking stick. Instead, we used the kids. We tripped, we laughed, we fell, we laughed, we splashed, we laughed. It took hours to hike through the Narrows. But it was a blast. For all of us, ranging from age 9 to age 41.

We posed on rocks. We climbed on rocks. We climbed into rocks. We did everything that came to mind and probably took a picture to go with it. There were waterfalls we touched and tasted. There were rocks we skipped. There were banks we rested on. And we were lucky. The Narrows close in the instant if the rains get too hard, as flash flooding can happen in, well, a flash. But the skies were blue and beautiful for us for the whole day. And the kids were so helpful to each other. The boys guided Milly across the rocks and rescued her as she tipped and tottered along the hidden riverbed. Even helping me as I did the exact same wobbling around the unsteady ground. All the while Jorge catching the whole thing on film.

But the Narrows are just one part of Zion. And while we fully intended to backtrack the next day and head to Bryce Canyon to ride around on donkeys, we once again got sucked into Zion’s gravitational pull. Over dinner at a local Mexican spot just outside of the park, we conspired to scrap our plans once again and head back to Zion to visit the Emerald Pools. As we tucked ourselves into our comfy beds, we plotted out the hows and whens our tribe would tackle a second day at Zion.

After watching the kids play chef and make their own breakfasts at Hampton by Hilton the following morning, we got an early start and managed to bypass the bus line we’d gotten stuck in the day before. Outfitted in workout gear and sneakers, we were ready to hike to another oasis hidden deep in the canyons. This time the hike was straight up. And along the way we saw deer. We saw baby watermelon. We saw tarantulas, which nearly sent Milly back to the entrance all by herself. We saw squirrels. We saw the fattest squirrels fed by tourists who are so used to humans they let you pick them up and pet them. (See the video below).  We saw waterfalls. We climbed petrified trees.

And then we got to the Emerald Pools and I climbed inside the freezing water and splashed around in it. It was beautiful. It was perfect. It was worth scrapping all the plans we’d mapped out before us and going rogue. The kids did yoga poses on a fallen log, making fun of me. Jorge did his version of my poses, too. We laughed. We took this quiet, untouched piece of earth and filled it with loud eruptions of laughter. And when we were done seeing this little shaded spot hidden in the dry desert-like heat, we packed up and headed back to the car. Next stop: Vegas, the last leg of this oblication, where the vacation turned into the obligation. But there was more fun to be had along the way. We just had to get there first.   

As an ambassador for Hampton By Hilton and it’s #RealTravel campaign, I’ve found Hampton By Hilton is an excellent place to park the fam when you’re on a road trip. If you’re thinking about taking an extended weekend trip, consider calling them your home away from home. There are fresh baked cookies in the lobby and no one looks at you funny if you go back for thirds, JSYK. Oh, and then there’s this: Book a three-day weekend and get half off Sunday. You can find more deets here.