For the first time in five years I wasn’t able to do my annual girls trip this fall. This was partly due to my having a new job that I can’t just leave all willy-nilly like I’m used to, but mostly it is due to the collective broke-assness of myself and all of the women in my life.
Everyone I know has had a hard time this year, whether it’s financial, emotional, physical or all of the above. While I generally have a most amazing life (though I feel I must point out that I have worked very hard for it), even I have had a hard time feeling awesome this year. I can’t put my finger on it, but something has just seemed off lately. That being said, I always try to stay positive. So when I wasn’t able to do my girls trip this year, I decided to take this opportunity to show my man what all the fuss is about, and he agreed to take my ‘girls trip’ with me this year.
I was beyond excited when I learned that Frontier Airlines started flying out of ORD. Not only is Ohare much easier for me to get to (like most Chicagoans I’m sans car and proud of it), but Frontier has been running some great specials to kick off their new route. I went back and forth between flying into Phoenix or Salt lake because both cities are relatively close to great hiking, but ultimately Salt Lake won because the flights were cheaper for the weekend I wanted to go ($150 rt ORD to SLC) and also because of its proximity to Park City. We decided to leave on Saturday, Nov. 1st and come back on Wednesday, Nov. 5th, a 4 night trip. This was significantly shorter than my usual 7-10 day girls trip, but this way I only had to use my vacation time for 2 days because I already had Tuesday off for election day. I was worried about feeling rushed because of the lack of time so I chose to see two places that I had never been (Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park), and one place that I knew I loved (Park City). I was excited to show E the place that I had raved so much about, ever since the first time I saw Utah I had been telling him how much I love it.
We got into Salt Lake around 7pm Saturday evening. We had some problems with the airline employees at Ohare but because I have flown with them several times out of Midway without a hitch I will chalk it up to them being very new and I won’t say anything else on the subject (I’ll save the rant for next time). After grabbing our rental car and bags we were on our way to Park City, about a 45 minute drive. One of the things that I love about SLC is the ease of picking up and dropping off the rental car, no waiting for a shuttle, it’s all right there.
We arrived at Yarrow hotel and conference center in Park City. The staff was very nice and the room was clean enough but I wouldn’t stay here again. Last time I was there I stayed at Park City Peaks which was only about 1/4 mile further from Main Street but the rooms were much nicer and it was about $30 cheaper per night (Yarrow was about $100, not bad but not really worth it in my opinion). I will say that the hotel was under construction (something that hotels.com failed to mention, obviously) so maybe this means that in the future the place might be awesome, but for now I would either stay somewhere cheaper or spend a little more and be right on Main Street.
I already knew where I wanted to go first, High West distillery. The only other time I had been to Park City I was there with my sisters and needless to say we had an awesome time. We shared a flight of whiskey, the Rendezvous Rye being our favorite (there’s a reason it’s their most popular), but all of them are interesting and worth trying at least once. It was supposed to snow that night so the temperature was pretty cold, but inside or out High West is nice and toasty thanks to their outdoor fire pit and cozy indoor atmosphere.
After eating the best grilled ham and cheese that I’ve ever had at High West (seriously, try it, it’s so good), we walked up the steep hill to the No Name Saloon. It was just as I remembered it; quirky, comfortable and a little dusty. This is the place where you can come dressed in a suit or a hoodie and feel perfectly comfortable either way. Looking around the No Name it’s easy to spot who are locals and who are tourists. We (tourists) have eyes all over the place, pointing at the old brick work and all of the crazy shit on the walls, while they (the locals) have their eyes on the football game and can order their drink with a wink and a nod. The bartenders are fast but not pretentious, they don’t make you feel like an ass for not knowing what kind of beer you want and their happy to recommend one to you (which is more than I can say for a lot of bartenders). The music playing was phenomenal, it went from classic rock to indie to metal, I literally did not hear a bad song the entire time we were there. Being as it was the day after Halloween we did get to see a few costumes, mostly of slutty (fill in the blank) who were heading to the club next door. Seriously, these ladies were literally in their underwear, I’m all for woman’s lib but letting a drunk dude feel on your bare ass in public probably doesn’t feel very “liberating” the next morning when you’re hung over and waiting in line to get the ‘morning after’ pill. Just sayin’.
After about 2 hours we went across the street to the irish pub, Flanagan’s. We bellied up to the empty bar, another friendly bartender helped us choose a beer, and after about 5 minutes or so we started to notice the thumping of base coming from downstairs. “Is there another room here or something?” we asked. “Yeah, there’s a band downstairs, Folk Hogan, their pretty good actually. And it’s free.” He had us at free. We grabbed our drinks and headed downstairs to find a bunch of long-haired 20 somethings with their faces painted like Kiss (I’m assuming this was only for Halloween and not their regular get-up). These guys are awesome. They sound like if Gogol Bordello and Mumford and Sons had a baby and it grew up to be a Viking. They played a couple of cover songs but it was actually their originals that won me over, which is rare. Definitely check them out if you ever have the chance, they said that they should be touring soon.
After Flanagan’s we had our friendly, stoner cabbie take us to 7-11 for some beer, and then we headed back to our hotel (there is a free bus but it stops running at 11pm). In Park City the bars close at 1am, which really sucks if you live in Chicago and you’re used to the bars staying open until 4am. Luckily there is a 7-11 in town that sells alcohol 24/7, so if you’re like us and really aren’t ready to go to bed once the bars close, you can stop here and pick up a night-cap.
The next morning we woke up to find that it had snowed about 4 inches overnight. Living in Chicago, my first instinct is to hate the snow, but it’s so beautiful there that it’s hard to be mad about it. Not to mention that I have never seen Park City in the snow, which is what it is mainly known for (being a ski-town), so this was a welcome change. We got on the road for Bryce Canyon at about 11:30am and made it to Panguitch, a quiet little town about 23 milesoutside of Bryce Canyon, at about 4:30pm. We had just turned the clocks back the night before and the sun was going down fast, so we decided to stay there for the night and wake up early to see Bryce Canyon. We stayed at the Quality Inn in Panguitch which was nice except for a very strong air freshener and a very unfriendly person at the front desk. He wasn’t necessarily rude, just not friendly at all (ie. no hello, no goodbye, just what’s your name and here’s your key). Plus when I asked him if I could switch rooms (I had accidentally booked a room with 2 beds instead of one, it was my fault), he gave me a lecture on why I shouldn’t book through 3rd party sites and why he could not switch my rooms. Thanks dude, a simple no would have sufficed. But the room was clean, spacious, a great view and free breakfast so I wasn’t too upset, I would probably stay there again and request a room with one king size bed and no air-freshener.
Bryce Canyon was breathtaking. I have been to the Grand Canyon and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bryce is very different. The canyons are filled with towering pillars (called Hoodoos) that stab up through the canyon so fiercely that it’s hard to believe that its taken millions of years to form them. The color of the hoodoos changes drastically depending on the time of the day and the weather, so you can take a thousand pictures and they will all be at least a little bit different. They change from deep red and bright orange through the early morning and evening to bright yellow and brown in the middle of the day. Depending on the time of year, the red rock contrasting with the bright white snow is absolutely beautiful and makes for some great photos.
The park it’s self is much smaller than the Grand Canyon and we were able to drive through the entire thing in one day, stopping at all of the look-outs and even doing a couple small hikes (even the small hikes can be time-consuming due to the change in elevation). After spending most of the day at Bryce we then headed over to Zion to spend a couple of hours before the sunset.
It took about an hour to get from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park but the scenery on the drive is so beautiful that you don’t even notice that you’re in between destinations. This being said, as soon as you get to Zion, you definitely know it. Giant orange and white mountains of rock seemingly grow right up in front of you and all of a sudden you’re in a different world.
These are much different from the hoodoos, these are giant, towering cliffs. It was only about 4pm when we arrived but already the sun was getting low enough to turn the mountains into something out of a movie. It was like the entire landscape was on fire with orange and red. We drove from the East entrance straight through to Springdale, an adorable little town just outside of Zion, stopping all the way but saving the Canyon Scenic Drive for the morning. We knew that we wanted to do The Narrows Hike the next day and since it is at the end of that 6 mile road we decided wait and do it all at once. After finding a good rate online ($79/nt), we decided to stay at the Quality Inn in Springdale. The staff at the front desk were very friendly, the room was clean and spacious, and the location can’t be beat, I would definitely stay here again.
We walked across the street to grab dinner at The Whiptail Grill and it was absolutely amazing. I had the fish tacos, E had the steak burrito and we got the chile relleno and chips and salsa appetizers to split. We loved it all, seriously, every bit, I highly recommend it. Plus it looks like an old gas station and it has a great outdoor space so it also gets bonus points for looking cool.
After dinner we went across the street to Zion Adventure Company to grab our hiking gear for the next day. We rented the Dry Pants Narrows Package which included dry pants, neoprene socks, hiking shoes and walking stick for $41 per person. If the weather is warm you can definitely get away with doing the hike without the dry pants and socks (you definitely need good shoes and a walking stick) but because it was November we wanted to be sure we stayed warm.
The next morning we got up early and made it to the Narrows at about 8:30am. After putting on our gear we set off on our hike. We planned to do the 4 mile round trip hike, one mile of a paved path, another mile through the river in The Narrows, when you see the split off to the right you can take that if you have a permit and plan on doing the 10 miles or you can turn around at this point and go back (this is what we had planned to do). The first mile of the hike is a piece of cake, paved path, mostly downhill, I could’ve done it barefoot. At the end of the path it comes to an area with benches and stairs leading down to The Narrows, this is where you enter the river and where the adventure begins. We both made sure that our socks were on correctly, as not to get our feet wet, and we started on our way.
At first I couldn’t tell if my feet were just getting cold or actually getting wet. It only took me crossing the river twice to realize, they were definitely getting wet. My first thought was that I must have put the socks on wrong, but since E said that his feet were wet too I think that just must be normal (or we both got a bum pair). Luckily the pants kept us perfectly dry, and the water really wasn’t that cold, so having water in our socks and shoes was just more of an annoyance than anything. Not to mention it made our feet as heavy as bricks, talk about a leg work-out. The hike was gorgeous, a little tricky maneuvering the river and the rocks but if you take your time and really pay attention to every step then it’s really not that bad. We did run into one pretentious hiker who yelled at E for smoking a cigarette. Had he said it nicely I would have definitely kept my mouth shut because I do agree that smoking is gross and smells bad. But the fact that the guy decided to bark orders at a complete stranger and be all holier than thou about it made me want to light one up as well just to piss him off. Smokers can be good people too, dick.
Anyways, we continued on our way for about 2 hours until we finally started asking each other, “doesn’t this seem like a long mile to you? This sure seems like a long mile.” That’s because it was 3 miles. Somehow we had missed our turn off, thinking that the split would be marked or have a sign or something, and we had continued past that split for another 2 miles. Oops. So once we figured this out (about 5 people told us, apparently we were the only idiots who didn’t know), we turned around and hiked back.
This hike is one of those that by the end of it your legs are screaming, and you can’t wait to just be on dry land eating a cheeseburger, but looking back on it I would do it again in a heartbeat. Even though we did the hike when it was a little bit colder it made it perfect for us because it wasn’t crowded at all. There wasn’t ever a time when there were more than 8 people around and there were even several moments when we had the canyons all to ourselves. Though I would have had a blast doing this hike with my sisters, there is something special and romantic about doing this hike with your significant other. The world is very different between those walls, with just the sound of the river and the echoes of your own footsteps, and if you’re lucky to be there at a time when there isn’t a crowd then you will know exactly what I mean.
After our hike we returned our gear, had lunch at Oscars Cafe (good, but not as good as the Whiptail), and headed out-of-town. We had spent most of the day on our hike so by the time we stopped for lunch and a few more pictures the sun was already going down again. We drove as far as we could, with the sun directly in our eyes at every angle, and after seeing one of the most amazing sunsets that I’ve ever seen we decided to stop for the night.
We decided to stay at The Days Inn in Beaver. Yes, that’s right, it’s called Beaver, Utah and they are not shy at all about pointing out the hilarity of that name (I heart Beaver signs, t-shirts, etc.). I like a town that can make fun of its self. Anyways, The Days Inn was about $59/night and it was hands down the nicest Days Inn I’ve ever stayed in, as well as the nicest hotel that we stayed in our entire trip. The room was brand new, super spacious and had free breakfast that you could get all day. Score.
The next day we got up early and headed back to Park City, about 3 hour drive from Beaver, to do a little shopping and have dinner at 501 (great food) before we flew home.
It was definitely bitter-sweet to do a trip out west without my girls this year, but I was happy that I was able to be there with E. It’s nice to share something that you love so much with your significant other, and also to see that place again through their eyes. I can honestly say that the trip was perfect, nothing felt rushed and we were never anywhere long enough to get sick of it. I highly recommend this itinerary if you are only going to be in the area for 5 days (and if you’ve already been to Moab) I’m also glad that I go to experience Bryce and Zion for the first time with E because, while it was nice to show him why I love Park City, there’s always something special about seeing a place for the first time together, now these places will always be ours.
“I would rather be in the mountains thinking about god, than in a church thinking about the mountains.”- John Muir
– Team Lost