BBQ, Blackjack, Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Point, Cannibalism, Canyon, Cottonwood Trees, Donner Party, Emerald Pools, Gambling, Grottos, Hike, Hoodoos, Kahunaville, Kitty Glitter, Las Vegas, Lost World, Moab, Nevada, Oregon Trail, Radioactive, Sierra Nevada, Slot Machines, Tailings, The Queen's Garden, Treasure Island, Uranium, Utah, Western, Wildlife, Zion National Park
Day 8 – Bryce Canyon National Park
Today we headed toward Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove past one of the large piles of Uranium left over from the Uranium mining days in Moab, the “Uranium Capitol of the World” (also the “Mountain Bike Capitol of the World,” if you didn’t know).
Moab was huge back in the late 1800s due to the Uranium Mining boom. However, the leftovers after the mining, or “Tailings,” turned out to be radioactive. Now there is 16 million tons of Uranium Tailings in Moab that is in the process of being moved to a dump site 30 miles north near Crescent Junction. It will take until 2025 for all of it to be moved. Don’t worry, though, residents. The radioactive materials are covered with a foot of soil to keep it from blowing around.
Another disturbing site to pass was the Sierra Nevada mountains where the Donner Party was stuck during one fateful winter on the Oregon Trail. They didn’t leave early enough to beat the cold and were stuck in the mountains. Many starved or died of disease, and the rest resorted to cannibalism to survive. Yikes.
127 Hours, Uranium Trailings, and the Donner Party stories are enough to convince me not to go dallying around Utah on my own. Luckily we are all grouped together on an air conditioned bus, keeping us from getting too crazy.
There was a change in the atmosphere on the bus as we approached Bryce Canyon. At 8,300 feet elevation, the air thinned, our ears popped and noses got dry. A little lethargic from a day of travel, we all slothily exited the bus and meandered to Bryce Point for a view of what we would hike tomorrow morning. We immediately perked up as soon as we came upon the spectacular amphitheater of creamsicle hoodoos and grottos below. It was at that moment we realized why Europeans came here to see Bryce Canyon first, Grand Canyon second. It was like another world, and we wanted it to be tomorrow morning already.
However, we returned to Bryce for (surprise!) a BBQ and western show. Of course we knew it would be hokey, but we didn’t know that the actors would act like dumb hillbillies in an attempt to get a laugh. Unfortunately 80 percent of the audience was European and English was a second language, so they were at least two degrees from understanding the humor. About 50 percent were French, which wouldn’t have made much of a difference if one of the actors hadn’t been attempting to translate everything into Hillbilly French twang. It was humiliating. With a 20 oz. steak, baked beans, a giant piece of cornbread on their plates, and that for their entertainment, we wonder how we get stereotyped.
Regardless of meeting some charming German travelers at our table, Christina and I left the show early.
Day 9 and 10 – Bryce Canyon & Zion
We woke up early to get in a solid breakfast before we went on our Bryce Canyon adventure. I was so excited that I forgot my camera battery in my room. Luckily Christina is a picture taker.
The actual hike was beyond words. We zig-zagged down between the smooth orange canyon-like walls, powdery sand beneath our feet of the same color. The trail that we were originally set on was closed, so we improvised, and were glad we did it. We walked along the Queens Garden, where spires of rock shot up like candy canes in candyland. We crossed through tunnels of rock to cliff edges that gave us miles of new perspective.
The tail end of our hike was pretty steep, and we started feeling the elevation a bit in our shortness of breath. But it was great to break a sweat and feel like we were able to experience something special. Christina and I were only matched by the other younger, more able-bodied travelers, Diane and Alan. Without our thirty-something other travel companions, we felt like we made our own, unique discoveries.
We had a similar feeling the next morning during our hike in Zion. Unlike any other guest in our group, the four of us were able to hike all the way to the upper Emerald Pool — a challenging hike, but fun. The lower pools were fabulous — an oasis in the desert where we finally saw some wildlife other than the occasional lizard. A squirrel even showed us the way to the upper pool!
Zion was a whole different experience than Bryce. In Bryce, I felt like I was on another planet. In Zion, I felt closer to home… if home was the next setting of Jurassic Park IV: Dinos in the Desert. It was like the Lost World. The croaking frogs even sounded prehistoric.
Another three hour hike made my muscles feel good, but unfortunately the cottonwood trees were in full snow storm mode. Sven warned us ahead of time so I was able to get some Clariton, but I was definitely feeling it, and a few hours there was all I could take.
Last stop, Vegas.
Once we returned to Treasure Island, we had a little while to get cleaned up for our Farewell Dinner. It was a nice meal, but a little awkward because no one made a toast, and Sven didn’t wrap up the tour at all. We had some good conversation at our table and were able to say some goodbyes, but everyone was left without a feeling of closure.
So we had to make our own.
I in my decidedly lucky gambling hat, Christina and I headed down to the Blackjack tables. Well, the hat only seemed to have prolonged my losing. Which was better than last time. At least I had some fun. Especially because Anna and Neil came up and started cheering me on. After I lost, we decided to get a drink and watch the performing bartenders in Kahunaville. Before long we were reminiscing about the trip and having all the closure we needed. Or so we thought.
After some drinks, Christina was extremely excited about gambling some more money — but she didn’t want to be the one to pull the trigger. Anna pointed out a machine called “Kitty Glitter.” As Christina handed me a $5, I put it in the machine and prepared to explain how you have to max bet on these machines to win the big bucks, and so your money goes fast, sorry. Well, I pushed Max Bet, she won 15 free pulls, collected six stars to fill the cat heads (whatever that means), and won 71 credits. No one knew what that meant. Christina thought $7.10, I thought $71. We cashed out to see how much it really was, and it was $158. I wasn’t able to give my “money goes fast on these machines” speech, and of course that made it look like winning was extremely easy, so I tried to tell her that after cashing out and that she should just walk away. “More Kitty Glitter!” So we returned, and I was prepared to say I told you so until she won another $38.
Needless to say we gambled away everything but the $100 bill before deciding to stop. And she even accidentally gave me the $100 bill to gamble when she meant to give ma a $10. It was time to go to bed.
it was quite a way to end the trip. At least someone was lucky! Maybe this June…