A couple weeks ago, a few of us Mestas' decided THE DAY BEFORE DEPARTING that we needed a vacation. My dad, two brothers and I piled a heaping mess of belongings into a car like the Beverly Hillbillies and at 4 AM, headed out for Zion National Park in Utah. What follows are tips to avoid some of our mistakes and how to make the best of your time in this one of a kind place.
1) If camping on a first-come, first-served basis, arrived EARLY.
The line starts to grow by 7 AM at the entrance to the campgrounds. We rolled in like true Mestas' at about 4 PM, but were able to secure an unused handicapped camp space near the bathrooms. None of us are truly handicapped, but when we come together, we form a quartet of disfunction so perhaps that qualifies. We also have a placard.
2) If tubing the river, do not skimp and buy the cheapest tube.
Your d*ck will thank you later. Also your ankles, knees, shins, stomach, back, shoulders and entire skeleton. Rapids hurt. Additionally, don't bring glass bottles of beer into a fast moving body of water with boulders dotting your path. The glass bottles will break, and you'll be left careening down a river and smashing into rocks with a sack of glass shards. We're smart.
It's also illegal to raft in the park itself, but starting at the bridge and heading out of the park and into town is great, legal fun. We were told that tubing in early June is best as the water level and temperatures are ideal, so tube at your own risk at other times of the year!
3) Bring your own booze from out of state.
Utah has an adorable law which prohibits the sale of beer above 3.2% alcohol by weight in establishments licensed for the sale of only beer. Thus, don't be shocked when your IPA tastes like a hologram. We were able to make a last minute purchase of regular beer at a liquor store (as beer above 3.2% is considered liquor in Utah) about 30 minutes from the park, but it set us back about $2.50+ per beer. Poor planning truly does cost you.
4) Don't make an air conditioning-less Scion your vehicle of choice when traveling across a 104° F desert with 3 other grown men.
It's impossible to listen to your tunes with the windows rolled down as the wind causes a ruckus, so you've gotta keep sort of rolling them down and then back up again to alternate between audio enjoyment and suffocation avoidance. And at 104° F, the wind in your face really isn't all that refreshing, unless you are the sun itself.
5) Wake up at sunrise and meditate on a rock.
I did. The morning breeze through the canyon is perfectly warmed and richly woven with the scent of desert shrubs. Though you'll likely see intimidating red ants crawling about, this particular varietal are docile and not taken to biting violence. Thus, relax and allow your third eye's gaze to rest soundly on your Crown Chakra as you take in the sounds of the Virgin River, the rushing wind as it sweeps through Cottonwood trees, and the Chinese family ceremoniously applying far too much sunblock to each other across the water.
6) Don't bother renting overpriced footwear for the Narrows. Do bother renting or finding a walking stick.
Many will recommend you rent these sort of underwater hiking boots....question mark? Really? Dude, that's not a thing. Wear some tight fitting running shoes and you'll be just fine. In the arid climate, my shoes were bone dry after leaving them out overnight.
Walking through the Narrows puts your inner ear on overdrive. You're never fully balanced as the constant stream harasses your every step. I took a bit of a risk and kept my camera out but I was prepared to go head first and arms up into the water to save it. But even for the relatively stable-footed, it shouldn't prove too difficult to remain upright.
7) Fear not the Rock Squirrel community!
This is the only place in the world I've seen such strong anti-squirrel propaganda. On the back of buses and in camp sites, you'll see an image of a man's hand riddled with stitches and the caption, "The squirrel bit me in less than a second." Yeah, that's about how long a bite takes. It's an activity with remarkably few steps: think about biting, bite, stop biting. Should take about a second.
The squirrels are bold (I saw one dive into my tent as we were driving away from the campsite), but they wish you no harm. However, one did manage to carry an entire apple out of the food pile, so I'm a little concerned by that strength-to-body-weight ratio.
8) Star gaze.
Though there's little light pollution to worry about, take the time to walk just a little outside of the main campgrounds at night to catch an incredible view of a limitless expanse of space. Do your best to absorb the magnitude of the universe, one glimmering star at a time.
9) Get a high five from the chipmunk at the top of Angel's Landing. And don't look down.
Though I didn't catch its name, I know there's at least one cool chipmunk living atop Angel's Landing who will approach you, sniff your finger, and then offer a high five with solid contact. He may have been reaching in hopes of food, but it really felt like more of a "game recognizing game" type of interaction.
Also, the hike is nothing to balk at. It's more psychologically than physically demanding. Trails, not clearly marked at times are flanked suddenly by drops hundreds of feet down to the canyon floor below. There are points on the climb when clinging to metal chain railing is the only safe way to proceed across worn, slipping sandstone. The whole thing feels like some right of passage or a test of bravery one must pass to achieve warrior status. I barely passed.