Road tripping through Zion National Park, Southern California, and Bryce National Park with three motives:
- Discover if our newest TOC Ambassador Brandon Zapf is actually funny in real life too.
- Enjoy much-needed family time in some of our favorite places.
- Attend a work conference in LA to prove whether combining work with pleasure is worth the effort.
Road Trip Survival
We left later than expected because road trips often go that way. Unless you’re willing to transport sleeping kids into an already packed vehicle in the wee hours of the morning, we can guarantee with 98% certainty, you will depart late. The 2% is possible, but only with a few raised voices and a lot of tears.
Random travel payoff: our delayed departure provided stunning scenery.
St. George, Utah
This growing city is located in southwestern Utah. Its close proximity to protected wilderness, and its comfortable fall climate makes it a great base. We thought about camping in and around the national parks, but with a combined six kids ages 11 and under, both families were glad we found a condo rental to share.
Some of our St. George family travel favorites:
- Climbing the red rocks of Pioneer Park for a great, free energy release and beautiful views of the city.
- Roaming the streets and shops of the historic part of town.
- Riding the carousel and getting ice cream at Judd’s Store. You can get some malts, soups, breadsticks, and candy, but we can’t seem to make it beyond the ice cream counter.
- Petroglyph Park (street-side petroglyphs) or Little Black Mountain Petroglyph (easy hike with great views).
- Sparkle Mountain (aka the Glitter Mine). It looks like a hill of broken glass, but it’s a gypsum deposit about 10 miles south of St. George. The kids spend an hour or two running, jumping, sliding and picking out their favorite rocks to keep and share with others. The exact GPS location is N 36 58.715 W 113 27.832
- There’s also an outlet mall, but I can’t think of a time when shopping with six kids ages 11 and under was fun.
Zion National Park
This is the national park of my childhood — a landscape of memories. My parents took us regularly; we hiked, explored, and camped. Zion has magic and majesty. It’s the perfect place to get to know new friends who share a love of family and adventure. With their shared desire to explore the world as a family, visiting Zion with the Zapfs made the trip extra fun. (Extra Zapf points: Zion starts with Z.)
By joining forces, we seriously improved the parent-to-child ratio. The Zapfs got the raw end of that deal, but I think Cora (age 11) and Hero (age 9) helped make up for it. They decided that Bear (age 3) and Ran (age 1) were much less annoying than their younger sisters, Philippa (age 6, who had a fever during most of the trip and stayed close to mom) and Minerva (age 3, who is deeply 3). The Zapfs helped entertain and guide the crew, especially on treacherous mountainsides.
I’m kidding. Zion is an easy place to take children of all ages. The park has a shuttle system, an interpretive center, a museum, and several gentle hikes. A few “trails” are even stroller and wheelchair accessible. Zion also has its share of the challenging and treacherous. This is the sign you’ll see before climbing the last leg of Angels Landing.
I was seven when I did it for the first time, but I distinctly remember my father pulling me back slowly from a ledge. That was the first moment I realized the trail could be dangerous. My dad is an adventure seeker, but his careful gesture reminded me that nature should be respected.
If you’re considering this hike with young ones, think it over and over. They would need to be young enough to stay perfectly still in a child carrier, or old enough to reason. Otherwise, stay in the flatlands.
It’s worth the quick stop on the drive from Zion National Park to St. George, Utah. Where else can you play around a fake town and buy $3 worth of carrots for the dirty rotten pony that will bite your three-year-old’s finger?
Our weekend with the Zapf crew was a success. We introduced their kids to a variety of ice cream, enjoyed the travel luxury of home-cooked meals in a rented kitchen, swapped a few germs, and lost in a game of quick wit. It turns out traveling with a couple of attorneys (who are more passionate about travel and family than the law) made our weekend even better. They tried to ditch us after the long weekend, but we persisted and caravanned near their hometown in Southern California.
John needed to attend a conference in LA and we went along for the ride. As our cars separated in the last 30 minutes of the drive, I noticed Cait fussing about in the back seat. I recognized, and later confirmed, that they won the ultimate road-trip award: barf duty.
San Clemente, California
In theory, adding a few days of vacation to a work conference sounds fabulous. Especially when dear friends offer their charming beach house complete with surf boards, personal surf lessons, a custom golf cart that will legally accommodate your family of six, and all the Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream ice cream you can eat. In actuality, maintaining a full work load, entertaining four kids 24/7, and driving two hours each direction during LA traffic, is exhausting.
With temperatures rapidly dropping at home, we played as much and as hard as we could at the beach. Cora and Hero were so excited to practice their surfing from last year’s Costa Rica trip, but the waves were intense and breaking too close to shore. They grabbed boogie boards and bolted off.
Cora didn’t realize she was too far out until she saw the lifeguard quickly swimming her direction. Honestly, I didn’t either. That’s the scary part about the ocean. Tides are swift and strong and unpredictable to the out-of-towner busily watching the children on the beach and in the ocean. I remember it getting scary right before he reached her. I remember being utterly grateful to a complete stranger for doing what I could not. I remember scolding my children for not being more careful even though I was the guilty one. I remember it took them 3.5 minutes before they decided retrieving kelp washed up on the shore would be more fun.
We spent the rest of our beach time taking dips and identifying life in the seaweed. The girls ran all the living things back to the sea, made sandcastles, and got sticky from the golden-brown grit. We spent a few dollars at Rocket Fizz, a vintage candy store filled with fun candy, novelty gags, and crazy bottled soda (bacon cola, anyone?). We ate our weight in pancakes at the hippie joint, Cafe Rae. All things considered, it was a great week.
Our Joshua Tree
As we made the long journey home, we drove through some beautiful landscape and captured symbolic photos. I wrote Our Joshua Tree dispatch about why we have four daughters, why this portion of the trip was a real challenge, and why in spite of it all, we prefer the with, if given a choice of With or Without You.
Bryce Canyon National Park
We took the long way home to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, home of the hoodoos. A place where photos clearly don’t do it justice. Especially if views are obscured by thick fog. Regardless, we ran around the bristlecone forest loop desperate to exert some cooped-up energy. It was the final adventure in a 10-day trip. As the doors shut 1, 2, 3, the hatch door, and 4, our hearts turned to interstate 15. We were ready to go home. Another trip in the memory bank — one that we’ll remember as being mostly awesome.