Southwest Tour 2017 Part One: Vegas & Zion

Tuesday, April 18

Vegas, the DisneyWorld of adults, is in the middle of nowhere.

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Oh, haiiii Nevada.

How did someone decide to build a gambling city and ultimate vacation spot here? Well, it was incorporated in 1911, originally chosen by the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) to build a fort between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. In the mid-1800s, however, the fort was abandoned, though its remains remain. Gambling was legalized in 1931, but the glamorous hotels and casinos did not define Las Vegas until after WWII. The oldest part of Las Vegas today is the original downtown and today, you can get the Fremont Street experience — a little rougher and dirtier than the shiny casinos on the strip.

Anyway.

We arrived in Vegas’ airports and quickly discovered that at every turn there were slot machines. Slot machines by the airport gates. Slot machines by the restaurants. Several floors of slot machines overlooking the baggage claim area, which was absolutely gigantic. We ran to one end of the airport to get our suitcases and then across the airport to the parking lot to meet our Uber. Unfortunately, our driver was an MLM schemer and grumpy with us for requesting an Uber for just the two of us. She made a show of driving around out of the airport and then circling back around to see if any other passengers would show up before heading to the New York, New York hotel and Casino, on the main strip.

New York, New York is on the corner of two main drags in Vegas. It’s sort of in the middle of everything you want to do in Vegas, which was optimal, and the pricing? Really, really good. You’re not breaking the bank to stay there and you can still wander up and down W. Tropicana Ave, South Las Vegas Blvd (aka “The Strip”) and the Vegas Freeway. We were right next door to the sweeping gold T-Mobile Center (where the new hockey team plays!) and across from us were the Excalibur and MGM Grand. To the left, down the strip: Monte Carlo, Aria, Bellagio, all within walking distance. A glimmering gold TRUMP tower waved in the (spring?) heat — mid ’80s.

Texas was warm, but not this warm.

And yes, we were very close in proximity to the Mandalay Bay, though we never ended up walking that direction because the main drag was the other way, following The Strip North.

Yes, Las Vegas is a city — but the skyscrapers are massive hotels. The hotels span multiple buildings, stretching to the sky. Ours was, of course, in the style of the New York City skyline, with the actual buildings of the hotel matching famous skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building and Empire State building, and there was even a miniature Statue of Liberty out front. The Excalibur was in the shape of a huge castle, etc.

But the weirdest part — we saw a roller coaster wrapped around our hotel, whipping in and out of the buildings, that’s how huge the hotel was. It was practically an entire city block. In fact, the block of restaurants including Nine Fine Irishmen, New York Pretzel, and Hershey’s Chocolate World, which are on the strip, are actually a part of the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, the entrances leading into the main floor of the hotel.

We stared in wonder. What the heck were we getting ourselves into? Would we be overwhelmed or thrilled beyond belief?

Tyler, Pat’s cousin, was already in the hotel waiting for us, so all that was left was to check in and drop our stuff in our room.

Staying in Las Vegas, at least at the NYNY hotel, wasn’t too expensive. I mean, no more expensive than spending a weekend at Foxwoods or Mohegan. And it’s VEGAS! You would think it’s unattainable. We were able to upgrade a boring hotel room a few notches to a Marquis suite for extra comfort, a better view, and not much more money.

Here’s a JPG of our room:

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Get the jacuzzi; I promise it’s a good idea

Also, as I mentioned, since it was HOT in Vegas, a change of outfit was in order.

We wanted to get lunch, explore, and Tyler wanted to see a particular car shop-restoration-junkyard-metal-souping-up-cars (restoration shop?) called WelderUp. They have a TV show. They basically turn cars that are old rust buckets and affix crazy new parts to them. I don’t know anything in or around cars, nor how to describe it, so here’s a picture.IMG_0911 (1).JPG

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Courtesy of https://imgur.com/r/Diesel/NxbT96r

After visiting the showroom inside the lot and viewing many more cars, it was time for lunch, and it was the right time to try In-N-Out Burger to see which of the brands was truly the best — In-N-Out or Whataburger.

First, In-N-Out is super fast. Like, get through a line of 55 people in just a few minutes fast.

Second, their food is better.

The end.

We began our evening exploring the Strip, starting with our own hotel. Tyler, Pat, and I are not big gamblers; we’d rather walk around, so we sat out on the patio of the hotel’s Irish restaurant and ordered mixed drinks. While pricey, they do not skimp on the alcohol, and also offer to-go cups for those that want to walk and drink. What?!

We walked North up the Strip. There is so much going on: all sorts of people out walking, bright, gigantic billboards, soaring buildings, limousines and characters, rows of crisp young palm trees, luxury retail stores, huge store faces, advertisements for Grand Canyon flyovers, and unbelievable architecture — blinking, imposing hotels as far down the strip as you can see, which is pretty far, because if you remember, Vegas is in the middle of the desert and it’s flat.

So combine the sights of Times Square as you first remember it — being totally overwhelmed and excited — with the magic of Disney paired with the best, most beautiful summer evening you can imagine.

This is Vegas.

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So it felt that we had been walking for days, but really only made it to the next block to stop in Diablo’s Cantina, which looks like a two-story Hell’s Angels bar and restaurant.

They served Mexican fare, so we ate and drank and had a jolly time for a few hours.

For the rest of the night? You know what they say…

Wednesday, April 19

Pat’s cousins had arrived late the night before, but I wanted to go to sleep after our big night out.

And now I was hungover. Tyler smirked at me on the way to breakfast, asking how I felt.

“Shut up,” I said, a typical response to Tyler’s sass.

We got breakfast with Pat’s cousins and aunt at a brunch place out on the patio at our hotel (I believe this particular locale was named Tom’s Urban). I got a breakfast platter, sans eggs: bacon, hashbrowns, cheddar polenta grits (YUM), preserves and bread. It was almost as perfect as having buttermilk pancakes and bacon, my go-to post-hangover feast. I did want coffee, too, but never got served any 😦 oh well. Water was more important.

It was another bright and beautiful sunny day. Our plan was to explore the strip further than we had the previous night, explore our hotel, and then possibly travel up to Fremont before our evening show, which was going to be a comedy/acrobatic/burlesque show, so basically a little of everything Vegas has to offer.

Our journey up the strip began at CVS, since most of us needed waters to go, and I desperately needed chapstick. But after that, we really got into it, crossing the strip over the pedestrian walkway and taking panoramic shots of the view, heading toward the more famous hotels — Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace, Paris Las Vegas, the Flamingo, the Venetian, the Mirage.

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Here I’ll give a little overview of the characters in this Las Vegas play:

  • Patrick, my boyfriend
  • Me, Myself, and I
  • Patrick’s cousin, Tyler
  • Patrick’s cousin, Evan
  • Evan’s fiancée, Taira
  • Evan’s (younger) brother, Jordan
  • Evan and Jordan’s mother, Cori
  • Cori’s boyfriend, Tom
  • Cori’s ex-husband/Evan and Jordan’s father, Elliott.

In the Bellagio, we strolled through the casino to the famous flower garden, which Taira really wanted to see, since she heard they bring out fresh flowers every day. The Bellagio is probably the most eloquent of the hotels, although to be honest it was the only one we truly took the time to walk through. In the check-in lobby there are bouquets upon bouquets of fresh flowers brought every morning and in the ceiling — something familiar! A Dale Chihuly blown-glass sculpture of sea creatures that you’ll remember from my post about visiting Seattle.

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This must, we thought, be the famed flower garden that Taira is talking about. But alas, it wasn’t. The Bellagio has a separate greenhouse courtyard, and it is truly wonderous, and it’s called the Conservatory and Botanical Garden.

Essentially, there are gardens and there are Gardens. The Bellagio’s Conservatory was fringed with different species of flowers tagged with their names, and amongst the modest displays of plants were Chihuly sculptures, just like in his gardens in Seattle, and gigantic sculptures of flowers, which change frequently.

For a sense of the scale of the final sculpture, there are two people in the photo.

From the Conservatory we turned outside to the pools outside the front of the Bellagio which house the famous water shows at night, and the small villa-like buildings around the outside of the pool (restaurants, luxury retailers, you name it!)

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You can see Caesar’s palace in the third picture — our next destination, to pick up our tickets to the show Absinthe, the advertisement for which for some reason gave me Moulin Rouge vibes. Or wait, did being in Vegas in general just give me Moulin Rouge vibes? Either way…

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Back at our hotel, we explored Hershey’s Chocolate World (truly, nothing interesting to see, since I have been to the one in the real New York several times, and it’s honestly only exciting the first time when gigantic everything is a novelty. However, their chocolate-themed drinks were not only fun, but delicious).

The rest of the gang hung out by the pool or chose to go down to Fremont for the evening, but Patrick and I thought that should get ready for the evening and take a nap after our very fun but very late night prior.

Intermission

What will I see tonight in these eyes

And what will I know when the morning comes?

Now picture us stepping toes-first out of our Uber. It’s early evening in Vegas — 8:00 or so — and the lights are on while the sun is going down. The evening is comforting and warm, like lighting your fire pit beside the lake on a summer night, and we are a couple of nobodies dressed up to go to our show at Caesar’s Palace.

Out in the courtyard, we’re handed drink vouchers and accept our complimentary beverages of choice — nothing for Pat, and champagne for me. The show? Not inside the hotel proper, but in a small round tent not unlike a shabby circus act propped against the outskirts of the glamorous Palace. And inside — it’s dark, it’s sweaty, there are hundreds of different kinds of chairs ringing the tent around and right up to the stage (which is tiny, maybe six feet by six feet). We aren’t sure about this… we take our seats, hoping we found the right ones, and I pop my mini-bottle of champagne. A photographer comes by and asks to take pictures of us — two professional portraits of the happy couple? At first I say no, but Pat’s smile makes me think for a moment. Okay, yes. I do want the picture. We’ll pick it up after the show.

Evan, Jordan, Taira, Cori, Tom, and Elliott file in just in time, just barely having made it back from Fremont street in time. The tent darkens, and the show begins.

We open on a young man, a table, a few chairs, and a bottle of Absinthe. Do you know where this is going? The young man, an acrobat by his movements, is essentially Hunter in The Dear Hunter’s Gloria music video. Like Gloria, which takes off due to the protagonist drowning in his high in an opium den, the show Absinthe takes off due to the young man drinking Absinthe, in which antics ensue, but not before he manages some incredible feats, literally (and metaphorically) climbing into the fantasy we watch unfold.

The main characters in Absinthe are the Gazillionaire (who looks like Hunter in the Gloria music video…curious!) and his sister, who run the “circus” we’re watching. They serve as the narrators who begin and end each act, with commentary and jokes between.

Absinthe is (and this is not a disclaimer as it’s stated verbatim on the advertisement) a rated-R show for those over 18 and not for the faint of heart. In other words, not for those who are easily offended or put-off by the vulgar, off-color, and sexual, particularly since the Gazillionaire tends to pick on people in the crowd for laughs.

We were good sports, we found everything hilarious, but there were some in the crowd who weren’t thrilled to be the butt-end of jokes at the Gazillionaire’s expense, as he spared no race, gender, or outfit.

The acts included acrobatics of all sorts: a little burlesque, Magic Mike-esque, kinky, romantic, and daring. Acts that leave you breathless, like a couple that rollerskates on the tiny stage, connected by ropes around each of their necks, and a contortionist girl inside an impossibly small bubble. Pat filmed my favorite act — the couple in skimpy outfits that defied gravity above the tiny stage in harnesses and wires, wrapping each other up so intimately that it could only be a metaphor for sex, but it was so romantic, I burned.

During the show’s intermission before the final acts, the ringmaster called for two men and a woman to take part in a competition for free drinks. He selected–as luck would have it–Patrick, apparently for looking like a “f*cking nerd,” and an older black man (like, not that much older, just about 10 years older than us). Unfortunately, the ringmaster selected a young woman in the front row who wasn’t playing along and didn’t enjoy the extremely crass humor of the show. She sat in the chair with her arms folded the entire time, unhappy with the jokes being made at her expense, with a sourpuss uncomfortable smile on her face.

In a few moments, the Gazillionaire announced what we were waiting for — Patrick, “THE WHITE GUYYYY!” would be facing off against “THE BLACK GUY!”

…IN A LAP DANCE COMPETITION! Wait, whaaaaaat?!?!?

(For your viewing pleasure, here’s essentially what went down except obviously this isn’t Patrick!)

Tyler had his phone out filming, I was laughing so hysterically that I could barely watch (and simultaneously, grateful I wasn’t chosen to go up to the stage!) Evan and Jordan were also bowled over laughing while Pat ambled up to the stage. Oh dear, god. The Gazillionaire promised Pat he could go first and dance to Dave Matthews awkwardly, and the black guy could go second, dance to hip hop, and win. The girl was not happy about being a participant, but she sat in her chair.

Pat did his best — he did a slow unbuttoning, ripped off his shirt, and whipped it around his head, even putting a leg up on the girl’s chair Captain Morgan style. The other guy, admittedly, did a really good lap dance (obviously, I remember Patrick’s more!). Barely looking at either of them, the chosen girl pointed at the guy who wasn’t Pat, but we were too busy cracking up and hardly breathing.

And they both got free drinks.

The act ended on a tight rope act, and we were still laughing, nearly exhausted by the loss of air. Patrick got his free drink and fist-bumped his lap dancing compatriot. The girl chosen to judge the lap dance was comforted and soothed by her yuppie boyfriend and his parents (hey, your fault for getting front row seats to a BEYOND raunchy show), and we danced and giggled out of the tent.

Patrick and I picked up our pictures first, and on the way back to our hotel, if you remember, we passed the Bellagio. Well, it was perfect timing to stop and watch the fountain show in the pool. So we did!

(P.S. I’m sure there are better videos of this, but there are many like it, and THIS ONE is mine).

And then we went back to the casino to the pizza restaurant and got big, fat slices of pizza to enjoy at 10 p.m. It was glorious!! Pat went up to Elliot’s room to see what life was like on the highest floor, and then we went back to our hotel room to like, pack and stuff. We were up late. It was worth it.

Wednesday, April 19 was a wonderous, exciting, and incredible night — we were thoroughly entertained. We were floored. We were wowed and awed. It was a night worthy of being called A Night on the Town.

Thursday, April 20

I woke up to a stunning view, happier than I had been in a long time (it was the night before, but also this:)

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Thursday, unlike Wednesday, didn’t go according to plan whatsoever and was very aggravating beginning with breakfast, thank you very much. I showered, finished packing, Pat got ready, and we met Tyler downstairs. I searched for coffee and bagels while Pat checked out and apparently, they were hard to find. I finally got a handle on a bag of donuts because people don’t like bagels in Vegas or SOMETHING and some coffee, a necessity, even though it took me a trip all the way back to Patrick and giving him a donut to realize I had never found the creamer. And it was almost time to get in line to pick up our rental car… GRRRRRRRRR.

Evan, Taira, and Jordan were running late, Elliot was nowhere to be found, they said, putting them well behind schedule in terms of picking up their rental. Worse, the plan for the day was this:

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Impossible! You think. Two and a half hours? And then another two hours! In ONE DAY!

Of course, I retort. And we’re going to spend some time in Zion National Park, you’ll see!

That’s the Southwest, my darlings.

And if Page, AZ looks familiar to you, that’s because it is.

Tyler, Patrick and I decided to kill time since the cousins were held up looking for Uncle Elliot by going to Best Buy in the neighboring town of Summerlin (the Best Buy in question was on Lake Mead Blvd, in a big plaza). We putzed around looking at TVs, Apple watches, cameras, drones, and other things we wanted to buy but couldn’t afford at the moment.

To kill more time, we then drove to the plaza across the street which had a Whole Foods and some restaurants. We wanted to get into Whole Foods and pick up snacks for the long drive, since we were now unsure of the timing of everything. We assumed we’d spend the day hiking once we got to Zion National Park and would need things like Tiger Nuts (my choice) and long ropes of cheese with garlic herbs (also my choice) and beef jerky.

Since we STILL were waiting for Evan and Taira to get on the road after Whole Foods, we decided to go ahead and eat lunch. But where to go?

Luckily, there was a solution just in front of us, in the Whole Foods Plaza — Rubio’s, a Mexican restaurant, which would satiate my #tacothursday craving.

If you didn’t know, Thursdays are actually my favorite day of the week. Traditionally, they were the day my dad was off from work (he was a postal worker) AND it was the day the schools served Mexican food.

Since Rubio’s Las Vegas brings up nonsensical photos of Marco Rubio, here’s what Google Maps has to say about that:

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(We were essentially parked in those front spaces, but it was cloudless that day, sunny and hot!)

The tacos were great. They hit the spot. No complaints from me.

By the time we got the O.K. from Evan and Taira to hit the road –aka they told us to just go and they would meet us there–it was past 1 p.m. We were already a couple hours behind schedule.

So I snapped this selfie:

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I promise, the snapchat Geotag said “Summerlin.” And in the background, you can see Tyler with his matching colored shirt!

We commenced our road trip. Technically, we were going Northeast to Zion, but it felt like we were heading deeper into the Southwest. I’ll share some of the highlights:

You’re welcome.

We were blasting our music, driving on Route 15, chewing my herbal cheese and singing along to “Come Get Her” by Rae Sremmurd (“please tell me you know this song?” I asked Tyler, actually in a kinda demanding tone, to which he answered, “of course!”). We rounded the corner, the road cutting through the mountainside, when we came upon some gorgeous canyon scenery and the Virgin River (Ha.)

And we also came upon…

Standstill. Traffic.

As you can tell from the pictures, there wasn’t much to see on the road, so you’re probably asking, WHAT TRAFFIC? Well, we had just driven through the tall mountains you see in my picture and rounded a corner when we stumbled upon standstill traffic. And by standstill, I mean that it wasn’t even a crawl — it was stopped. The road was completely blocked from moving forward. Better still, we had no cell service, so I couldn’t even look up the incident on my phone. The sun was bearing down, as you can tell from our pics, and we were going nowhere fast.

Google Maps has a giant Swift truck in the way, but never fear! I’m fairly sure I captured the spot we got stranded. As Patrick and Tyler both said, at least we had something to look at:

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Whatever happened to cause the utter shutdown of roads, it happened just before we reached that part of the highway.

I cursed and groaned. “How can the traffic not even be moving?” I asked, looking for someone to give me the answer. “How can we be this unlucky?” 

I knew how. Uncle Elliot didn’t wake up on time and set everyone back a couple hours. If we had left earlier, I chagrined, we wouldn’t be stuck now.

I kicked at the seat while Pat put the car in park and Tyler laughed at my malcontent. We shut the car off, as we weren’t going anywhere fast. We were at a part of the highway where we were about to take a sharp left curve, so we couldn’t see any further ahead than a couple cars and a lot of rocky mountains.

The last time this happened, I let everyone know, was on the way to Niagara Falls. In that incident, there’s a picture of me, arms crossed, face scrunched, standing on the side of the highway with our minivan’s doors all opened, with my dad and uncle, as we chatted with other travelers about the poor turn of events. A group of kids was even playing football!

Much the same happened on the Veterans Memorial Highway, also known as Route 15, in Mohave County, in the NW corner of Arizona. People turned off their cars and stepped outside, to pee and to chat.

“You can’t just go wandering off into the desert,” I warned Pat and Tyler as they took off their seatbelts, reminding them of one of my favorite books, Death in Grand Canyon. “You might not come back.” They assured me they’d be fine, and left me to watch the car while they bounded over rocks and out of sight.

I shifted in my seat, getting grumpier and grumpier. What was happening? The limited cell service I had told me that there was some accident not too far up ahead. It must have just happened before we reached that point on the highway, and as a result of that accident, there was another accident. Tow trucks were involved in getting cars out of the gorge. They shut down our side of the highway because of the danger.

Danger, SCHMANGER. I wanted to get to Zion!

Fun fact: Rt. 15 runs about parallel to the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River (look it up, I’m not joshing you) due to the fact that it follows the Virgin River Gorge.

While Pat and Tyler were off in the desert beside the highway, I suddenly realized the cars ahead of us were starting to crawl. No, not crawl — they were straight up moving. The highway was open!

But oh SHIT — Tyler and Pat were nowhere to be found, and it’s not like I could call them on my phone. I took off my seatbelt, jumped awkwardly into the driver’s seat, and started the car. I lifted my foot off the brake and we rolled forward.

And suddenly — a miracle! Tyler and Pat were running, hopping over the guardrail, scooting between cars with their hands up, and I was just as quickly scrambling into the passenger seat while they dove inside.

We were on the road again.

A few miles up the highway, we came across a burnt shell that looked like a bus. We were instantly sobered, our complaints unfounded. Was it a school bus? Were kids hurt or dead? Were we selfish for getting impatient? As it turns out (I researched the accident later) it was a pickup towing an RV, and the RV caught fire, so deadly and out of control that the highway had to be closed or other cars would be at risk of burning, though no one ended up being hurt, thank goodness. I think there was another minor accident too, caused by someone not paying attention while driving near the accident scene.

Anyways, we were ON OUR WAY once more! The traffic had set us back another 45 minutes, and we still had another hour and a half or so to drive. We were going to get to Zion much later in the day than we anticipated — not until 4:30 or 5 p.m.

And Evan, Jordan, Taira, Cori, Tom, and Elliot were all still about 30 to 45 minutes behind us on the highway.

We entered Zion National Park’s south entrance parking lot around 5 p.m., over two hours later than we anticipated in our original plans. I needed to use the bathroom, and we still had to wait for Evan and Taira. Pat and Tyler didn’t want to get out of the car, in case Evan arrived sooner than later.

“He’s a big boy,” I said irritably. “I’m sure he can figure out how to park and find us.” Man, this day was not going well. Now I was off, alone, to find my way into the park and bathrooms.

Something changed, though, as soon as I left the car and began to wander into the trees, following the suddenly quiet paths away from the road. Part of it was the warm evening sun, spilling golden light over everything. Part of it was the towering red rocks of the Canyon, stretching impossibly high, 500 feet or even further, forming a red wall around us. Inside the main welcome center/visitor center area, there were informational wooden signs about the different parts of Zion — the landmarks, the roads, the campgrounds, the trails, and bus routes.

I found the bathroom and the water bottle fill center because of course, it was necessary to drink more water. THIS was the Southwest, back in my element! As I gazed around me, the red rocks and sun filtering through the delicate trees, I was reminded of something familiar. Something so familiar I had pictured it in my mind for over ten years.

Spot the Difference:

While in the bathroom, I ran into two of the other wedding guests — Jenny and her partner, Victor. They were excited to see me, since they’d already been at the park for an hour waiting for everyone else. I was suddenly not grumpy anymore. After chatting and walking around the welcome center, I decided to grab Pat and Tyler from the car while Jenny and Victor changed into better hiking clothes. We were still waiting for Evan and Taira’s car to show up. And also, I forgot to add, the rest of Taira’s family was meeting us — her sister, her mother, brothers, and father.

Pat, Tyler, and I investigated the informational signs and chatted with Jenny and Victor while we waited. Pat kept fiddling with his pocket, which attracted my attention, but it was just his phone. If you didn’t know, I had been half-hoping for a proposal on this trip, but pushed the feeling away when I realized it was unfeasible. Who carries a ring around half the country to multiple hotels and homes and planes? And there were just so many people in the park and the whole day was messed up anyway. It was kind of a silly dreamy hope, like I didn’t expect it too much, so it wasn’t a let down. I was actually really counting on it happening at my graduation the following month.

It was nearly 6 p.m. when everyone finally arrived and boy, we were a big group. Taira has a lot of siblings.

Then the next problem:

None of us had ever been to Zion National Park before, so it was still up for debate whether we would try and do a hike or just take a hop-on hop-off bus tour, the pros of hiking obviously being that we had just been in a car for several hours (the bus tour is about 1.5 hours long) and the cons being that we didn’t have a lot of time before sunset (maybe two hours, tops) and it would be difficult to see the most scenic parts of the park, considering it’s huge. There were some shorter trails, sure, but they weren’t all directly accessible from the welcome center. For instance, the Lower Emerald Pools trail was only about a half mile, but we’d have to drive or walk a few miles to get to it.

 

Anyway, we decided last minute on the bus. And luckily, a few things were already closed for the evening, so we basically got to start off the tour with Stop 4, the Court of the Patriarchs, but not before I could snap a bunch of the scenic red sandstone from the shuttle:

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At stop 4, we had to walk a tiny bit up a trail to the overlook. There was a lot of evidence of early spring washes, and of course I got photos of cacti.

The Patriarchs are so-named for the Biblical Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they are three gigantic sandstone cliffs, leaning in the same direction à la Half Dome (in my picture, you can see the first two; the third was off to the left).

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We didn’t stop at Zion Grove or the Grotto, but instead headed to stop 7, Weeping Rock, since we thought it would be a neat place to see. Weeping Rock is a huge overhang that drips water constantly. It is reachable by a short, quarter-mile or so hike uphill to the rock face.

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Trailheads // Photo courtesy of https://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/weepingrockpix.cfm
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Weeping Rock // Photo courtesy of https://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/weepingrockpix.cfm

The sun was finally starting to sink as we set off up the trail to Weeping Rock. As you’ll see from my photos, Weeping rock is an eroded portion of the sandstone face where water drips between the layers in the stone, resulting in hanging gardens and constant drips from above, a slippery rock face and trail, and stream that flows downhill into the Virgin River.

I investigated the columbines growing in the rock face, snapped a picture above everyone’s heads of the curving overhang, and took a little of the (very cold!) water on my finger and Pat grimaced at me.

“Should I try it?” I asked.

(I didn’t try it).

It would have been great to visit Weeping Rock on a very hot day, as the water drips were freezing and with the sun setting, the breeze was getting less comfortable. This is what happens in the desert.

Evan and Taira took a few pictures in front of the view with their wedding photographer, Adam, and then opened up a quiet corner for us to take a picture, me handing off my wallet and sunglasses and phone to Taira as Pat did the same.

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We rearranged ourselves to get a picture in front of the view, but Pat stood in front of me and took both my hands, stopping me from moving, with a very serious face.

“Without further ado,” he said.

And then! AND THEN!

He bent down on one knee, reached into the pocket he had been fiddling with, and pulled out a diamond ring. There was a speech, there were gasps and reactions from the rest of our friends and family, and he asked me to marry him, while he put the ring on my finger.

I jumped into his arms.

“Yes!” I’m sure I said, but the moment happened so slowly and so quickly all at once that it was like I had tunnel vision. I can see him sliding the ring onto my finger and taking my hands, and all else is a blur as I am hugging him.

“Welcome to the family,” Evan says.

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It wasn’t until later that I found out that Patrick, Evan, Jordan, Taira, and Tyler had all helped to plan the surprise proposal, and that Adam (their wedding photographer) had captured some beautiful pictures of us as he proposed.

Patrick had in fact shown Jackie the ring while we were in Texas. On the flight to Phoenix, when Pat was panicking and searching for his phone, I had touched the ring box through his backpack while suggesting he search in his side pockets. And, even more amazing still, Patrick had hidden the ring in Tyler’s hotel room safe the whole time we were in Vegas and kept it in his pocket while hiking in Zion.

And then, even after we arrived at Zion and parked, and I rushed off grumpily, alone, to use the bathroom, Pat had stayed behind on purpose to practice his speech and retrieve the ring from Tyler.

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We walked down the hill and while we waited for the next shuttle, explored the river underneath Weeping Rock, which churned in fury as it wound around tall sandstone rocks.

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And during the shuttle bus ride back, my heart was still pounding. Patrick took my hand and smiled at me the entire way back to the parking lot, snuggling with me, just as happy as I was. I knew his happiness was partially relief — I couldn’t imagine the anxiety of proposing in front of a crowd of people.

I walked to the bathroom one more time and washed my hands, guiltily-but-not-so-guiltily sneaking glances at the unbearably sparkly oval diamond on my hand. It was perfectly perfect. This place, these people, this ring, this Patrick.

It was now 7 p.m., which was about 10 p.m. eastern time, and I had no cell service to call my mom or friends.

Tomorrow, I thought. Tomorrow, tomorrow!

We were engaged, I was engaged, I was now a fiancée. Now what? I thought. When do we want our wedding to be? What happens next?

As we passed the park shop, a sign stated it was only open till 6 p.m. I’d missed the chance to buy myself a souvenir.

Later that Night

We left Zion for Page, AZ, on Route 9, still an hour and a half ride away, driving up the winding roads out of Zion, where we ooohed and aaahed at some of the most scenic stuff in the park — and it was on the way out the north entrance (Kolob Canyons)! First, the road zigzagged up a cliff face in switchbacks, and then wound through a tunnel, then ran in and out of red-and-tan striped slot canyon walls too jagged and close to us.

I sank into the car seat, the excitement of the day suddenly making me drowsy. I put my hood up, my hand over Pat’s on the center console as we drove toward Page — toward home. It was a quiet ride without even the barest trace of noise — hardly any cars and hardly any light, as there were no streetlights. We watched the sun set and the stars rose, with no light around to mask them.

On the road I finally was able to get service enough to send a picture of my ring to my brothers, mom, and friends. They were nearly asleep (it was almost midnight back home!) but were excited to finally hear from me, since they knew Pat would be proposing.

It was so dark that I didn’t even notice when we passed into Page. The town was asleep (it was past 9, possibly even 10 p.m. at this point) except for the caretaker of the Lake Powell Motel. We grabbed our key and he handed over some maps, on which he circled recommended restaurants and things to do as he welcomed us to Arizona.

Welcome back, I thought, starting to grin.

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Despite the skeevy looking buildings and dirt gravel parking lot, the motel was actually really nice — the opposite of creepy. The kitchen was somewhat stocked, including with dishes and coffee (!) Unfortunately, it was easy to hear cars driving by your window and people walking around outside.

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Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

My suitcase found a home on the floor in the closet, my new ring box (!) went next to my bed.

The first thing we decided to do was get McDonalds, as we hadn’t eaten yet. Luckily there was one not too far away. Jordan, ever the Jughead of the group, got himself a full meal as well as ice cream, while the rest of us settled for some nuggets and fries and things like that.

Back at the motel, we settled in. Tyler got a bedroom, Pat and I got a bedroom, and Jordan crashed on the couch. In the morning, Pat and Tyler were waking early to pick up the houseboat where Evan and Taira were having their reception, and I wanted to rest, relax, make breakfast, and watch Pretty Little Liars. Jordan, who works as a bartender back home in Florida, typically doesn’t get up until noon, so I wasn’t worried about him. We could hang out until it was time to meet up with the rest of the gang.

I took off my new engagement ring and climbed into bed with my new fiancé. Things had just taken an incredible turn, and I was excited for the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and all the days to come, in this new future heading in a bright, shiny new direction.

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