A warning, this is a long one.
Three weeks ago I got to take Lexi “Real” camping for the first time. Since we started doing our hikes I’ve talked to her about the difference between “RV” camping and “Real” camping. She’s been so interested in it she couldn’t wait to get the opportunity to go. The day before we left I had this conversation with her.
Me, “Lexi wanna go on a hike this weekend?”
Lexi, “Yay! Daddy can we go camping?”
Me, “Not sure baby. I won’t say yes or no, but we’ll see.”
Lexi, “Daddy how about can we go on a two day hike where we camp in between the days?”
A few days before we left we went over to the “hiking” store, REI, to get some of the gear we would need for our weekend. We spend a few hours in the store getting stuff like a lantern, dishes, and a cooler while renting bigger items like the Coleman stove, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. The entire time Lexi is absolutely clueless as to why we are buying all these things. It never clicked that all this stuff, including 2 sleeping bags and 2 sleeping pads (both for daddy of course), was for a camping trip. As a matter of fact we kept the fact secret up to the day we left.
The morning we left, June 29th, Lexi and I got dressed in our normal hiking attire and started packing up the car. Lexi’s helping pack up the car and she’s starting to wonder why we’re packing all this extra stuff for a normal hike. At one point she stops and says all excited, “We’re going camping!” I tell her, “Nope sorry baby. In order to go camping we need a tent and there is no tent in here.” Looking totally rejected and hanging her head low I hear a whimper of an, “Oh ok.” I walk over get in real close and say in her ear, “Hey go get the tent.” She looks up at me with the largest grin and just starts dancing up and down, freaking out. It was great to see her so excited. We finished packing up, kissed momma good-bye, and set our sights on Zion.
After stopping at the neighborhood Albertson’s for ice and firewood we left town. It took us a couple hours to get to the site, arriving around noon. Pulling up to the turn off there was a sign indicating that the campsite was full. My heart dropped and I started dreading that we might have to go somewhere else. We pulled into the campsite and found, thankfully, that there was one last site just for us.
I pulled the car in and we started unpacking. Naturally I started with the tent. The night before I had been smart enough to get the tent out and set it up in the living room to learn exactly how to set it up instead of trying to figure it out in the wild. I’m really glad I did. The winds were really kicking up and made getting everything setup a little more difficult than normal. Had I not practiced the night before, I can only imagine how frustrated I would have been trying to read instructions while trying to stop the tent from blowing away.
Once camp was all setup and lunch finished, we slathered on the sunscreen and set out for a quick hike before dinner. We took the quick trek down “Barney’s Trail” which took us from up high on Lava Point down to the West Rim Trailhead road. The road was a nice quiet dirt road which took us to the West Rim Trailhead. From the trailhead we went a hundred feet or so before coming to a fork in the trail. One direction continued the West Rim Trail which leads you to the main canyon of Zion, and the other, our choice, started down Wildcat Canyon Trail.
The scenery was beautiful and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a hike. The wind that we had at the campsite was non-existent along the trail and the temperature was awesome. Unfortunately, Lexi and I weren’t so awesome. At the time it had been a couple weeks, at least, since either of us had been on a hike so we were both out of shape for such a long hike. Looking at the map info I would say we made it about 4.5 miles before we finally decided to turn back and call it a day. Also it was starting to get late and if we turned around any later than we did we would be walking back in the dark.
Back at camp I started to work on our gourmet dinner of Spaghetti O’s and hot dogs. Since the wind was still blowing pretty good I forgo cooking on an open fire and used the Coleman stove for the hot dogs instead. I was bummed about it at first, but then Lexi and I got in our chairs and huddled around the stove while everything was cooking. After all the hard work of setting up camp, doing our long hike, and cooking dinner, those SpaghettiO’s and hot dogs made up the best dinner I’d had in a long time. It tasted SOOOO good.
I had been told by the park rangers that fires were allowed in, and only in, this campground but I was worried we wouldn’t have a campfire because of the strong winds. As luck would have it, as the sun continued to disappear over the horizon, the winds eventually relented calming enough to let us get our fire started. For our fire I purchased this cool log, you can see here, which was easily started with a single match. Getting started it looked like nothing more than a match burning and Lexi looked at our fire, then at our neighbors and said, “Dad look at how big their fire is compared to ours! It’s so cool!” I looked at her with hurt in my eyes and she followed with, “It’s ok dad our fire is cool too.” So I had to level with her, “Lexi they cheated, they used gas from their car to get their fire started.” To make me feel even better, later in the night I made sure to point out that our neighbors were forced to kick over their neatly stacked fire because of how big it was becoming. Our fire kept doing its thing and got large enough for us to kick up our feet and enjoy the warmth while eating our smores!
The next day we took our time getting up and running. I had originally planned on us taking an eleven mile hike up to Kolob Arch, but after our performance the day before I knew that was out of the question. So instead we hung around camp enjoying breakfast and lunch before heading off for any adventure.
Our adventure began just after noon. We cleaned up camp, packed everything away neatly, and drove over to Zion’s main canyon.
We started our adventure in the main canyon by visiting the visitor’s center. Getting out of the car I was thankful that we had secured our campsite at Lava Point. The temperatures at the main canyon were easily approaching the 100s and it was miserable. That didn’t stop us from going inside and watching a couple videos.
Lexi was very interested in watching the video that talked about “Pack it in, pack it out.” This is something that I have tried my hardest to engrain into Lexi. Each time we go out on our hikes we make sure that all our trash comes out with us, and if find trash while on the trail it comes back with us as well. Getting to watch a video going into even more detail about the philosophy I think was really good for her. It went from being something that dad wants her to do, to something much bigger.
After our video we headed over to the gift shop. We did a few laps before we finally found something she liked and I approved of. She picked herself something and then I decided on something else for her. Lexi picked a metal Christmas decoration, of all things, and I picked up a benchmark paperweight which matches the one she picked up at Death Valley earlier this year.
Done with the visitor’s center we got back in the car and took a little drive. We went from the visitor’s center to Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The tunnel itself it just over a mile in length and was completed in 1930. The reason for building the tunnel was to provide access to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon directly from Zion. Along the drive we stopped at several pull outs to get some pictures of the beautiful surroundings. At one stop we even had a chat with a bicyclist who was taking a break for some pictures of his own before continuing up the road.
After the tunnel we turned around and drove back down to the visitor’s center. Here we caught one of the buses that travels the length of the upper canyon. As she always does she made a friend almost immediately. The first stop after we got on board was the Human History Museum. A girl around Lexi’s age got on board and joined us all the way to our stop at the lodge. The girl got on board and plopped down right next to Lexi and they started talking. It was great. I struck up a conversation with her parents and learned they were on a whirlwind tour of the west from New Jersey. They had come from Grand Canyon the night before, were staying in Zion that night, and heading to Vegas in the morning before ultimately flying home. Upon learning we were from Vegas the little girl insisted that we get together after our camping trip at their hotel. It was adorable.
Once at the lodge we went inside and upstairs to be seated at the Red Rock Grill. This is the same restaurant that Dawn and I went to a few weeks earlier. I made a special request for a particular table so that I could get Lexi to sit in the same chair her mom sat in before. When I told her that she was sitting in the exact same seat mom had sat in she was really excited. We sat, relaxed, and enjoyed our dinner while soaking up the beauty that was all around us.
With dinner done we jumped back on another bus to continue our trek up the canyon. We went all the way to the end and started hiking up the Riverside Walk just like Dawn and I did. Along the way we saw tons of critters. The first was a mule deer that was just a handful of feet away from the main trail. There were several squirrels and lizards along the way as well. I’m not sure how far up the trail we made it when Lexi turned to me and said she needed to go to the bathroom. So we turned around at that point and called it a night. By the time we go back to camp it was very late, we were both exhausted (she fell asleep on the drive), and we both just climbed into our bags and passed out.
The next morning we awoke to realize that we had the entire campground to ourselves. Everyone else who had been staying at the campground woke up early and left before we had even climbed out of bed! It was no wonder we had such a hard time getting up, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Some high clouds were starting to move in and it was going to be a beautiful day.
It was during our oatmeal breakfast that the realization set in that today was our last day. Both Lexi and I were bummed at the idea of having to go back to Vegas. Our time camping was absolutely great and neither of us wanted it to end. After breakfast we came to our senses, cleaned up and started packing stuff away for the long drive home.
Once everything was packed up and stuffed into the car we did a thorough tour of our campsite. I told Lexi, “The rule is after you’re done camping and everything is ready to go you go through your campsite and pick up all the trash even if it isn’t yours. If we leave this site better than when we found it that’s a good thing.” So we spent 5-10 minutes going over every square foot of our campsite making sure we there was no trash for the group coming after us. With all the trash picked up and put away we got in the car and started for home. But not before saying one last “Goodbye campground. See you next time!”