Rollin’ Out: Yosemite–>DeathValley–>Zion

Ok, so we left last week. We’re now in Utah! It’s been a pretty incredible adventure so far. As it turns out, I haven’t had a ton of time to devote to writing here, but I want to get something posted just to document some of the highlights, so I’ll try to write here every few days with a quick summary and some pictures.

Here we go!

Day 1: We got a bag of burritos, drove outta San Francisco, and made our way to Oakland to meet Vivi and Robin’s 4-day-old baby, Marianna! Omagod she is so adorable and those two are like total parenting pros already. It’s impressive. I’m SO glad this little babe was born in time for us to meet her and I can’t wait to see more updates over the weeks and months. We said our goodbyes to the new parents (yes, I cried…because that’s what I do) and then we drove on and stayed with Liz & Kevin in Livermore. They literally got back from vacation that day (I mean, we got to their house in time to do laundry and get groceries before they even got there!). It was awesome spending a night with them to catch up from the last few weeks. Wilder and Ethan are starting to really love hanging out together.

Day 2: Liz, Kevin, Eva (sort of!) and Ethan all saw us off on Thursday after lunch. I cried a lot. I honestly just couldn’t keep my shit together. For one – we will miss these guys so much. And for two – it was official that we were leaving. Even though we left San Francisco the day before, leaving this group was the moment it really sunk in for me. June 14th had finally arrived, and there was no turning back. I hated leaving not knowing when we’d see them again, but I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be that long.

Once we left, we got off to a great start in terms of the road trip, and Wilder slept the whole 2 hours to Yosemite Pines Resort. This was a little cabin we got near Yosemite so we could get up and find a campsite first thing the next morning (fortunately we didn’t have to do that as I scored a last minute rez last week online!). We got settled in to our little cabin and walked down to the petting zoo which tickled Wilder to pieces, except when the llama spit on him. Ha! For dinner we headed into Groveland and got some sorta ok Mexican food, but that was basically our only option.

Day 3: Not too bad a night’s sleep for a hot tiny cabin. We had a quick breakfast (toasted english muffins!) and got showered in the bathrooms nearby. For whatever reason, I keep thinking about the “worst thing that can happen” on this trip and today I thought it had already occurred – I “lost” my car keys and Chris had his IN the car – not helpful!! This was NOT how we wanted to start this road trip. Fortunately, they were just sitting underneath one of our thousand bags on this dark plaid patterned bed. This fact did not reveal itself until after I’d already ran down to the check-in area and asked if anyone turned them in and once I learned that they hadn’t, I then proceeded to figure out the Plan B of how we’d get into the car without any keys – not an easy feat when in Yosemite. Chris will forever make fun of me for this, because I was seriously convinced that this little Asian lady had stolen them when I left them at the sink to go poop. She did not. (Don’t tell him, but I even checked through the trash can in the bathroom because I thought she may have maliciously thrown them there – wtf is my problem?! Imma chalk that all up to vacation stress and call it a day.)

Anyway, so once we got packed, we drove about an hour to Yosemite Valley, found a decent parking spot, and hiked most of the way up to Vernal Fall. It was glorious and Wilder had a blast! We hadn’t used our Osprey pack in a while with him, but were thrilled to discover he was just as happy in it as he was the time we used it a few weeks ago. This was a pretty good feeling, considering we were planning on having him spend a decent amount of time in it. The trail itself got pretty wet and steep the closer we got to the top, so as smart responsible parents, we stopped and turned around (were we child-less, we would have definitely done it – we will say this many times on this trip, I know already). It felt good to clock about 6 miles on our first day and we were all happy at the end!

We then drove up to Tuolomne Meadows where we scored a campsite reservation for the next two nights. At check-in the guy said they had a “nice site” for us, which was a flat out lie. It was super shitty – muddy with a thousand mosquitoes. I hate mosquitoes – because they love me so much. We made a quick dinner which ended up being a long dinner because there wasn’t a good system for washing (#bearcountry) and I ended up cheating and washing dishes in the bathroom because I didn’t have a wash basin…

This was our first official night camping in a tent with Wilder, and so far, it has been the worst of all (I guess it’s good to get that over with?). He fell asleep easily and on his own, but when we went in, he was down at the end of the tent and I was overly paranoid about the cold weather. I made the horrible, horrible mistake of moving him up to sleep beside me at which point he woke up screaming bloody murder. I probably had to feed/nurse him 5 times that night to shut him up, and we got practically no sleep at all.

Day 4: We were determined to make this a good day and to move past our sleep issues from the night before. Of course, Chris was already being Debbie Downer about camping with Wilder since we had a decent amount of camping reservations lined up, but we both agreed to see how the next night went before making any changes to our plans.

After we got going, we hiked out of our campsite and went most of the way up to Cathedral Lake. The 8k elevation was killing us and probably the lack of sleep too! So we turned around about 2 miles from the lake. Still a good day of hiking and Wilder officially fell asleep IN the pack, which I wasn’t sure he’d do given his constant need to see everything. We’d decided not to worry as much about naps on this trip as we (I) usually do, so we used today as a test day to see what happened if we just went out and did our thing. He got a good hour in – not as much as he usually naps in a day, but we weren’t going to complain.

After we got down to Tuolumne Meadows, we had a tasty cold beer outside and then an early dinner at the grille (the same one Jennifer and I ate at on our JMT hike!!!) to avoid cooking in bear country. Once again Wilder went to sleep on his own and we crossed our fingers that the night would be better.

It was. The night… at least!

Day 5: So yeah, Wilder slept pretty quietly but as soon as we were getting excited about it, here comes 5am when the sun comes up and he is wide awake screaming again. I am convinced that the cold bothered him (despite having him in his regular footed PJs + a down snowsuit that he HATED) but we’ll never really know. Or maybe he just wasn’t a fan of the tent at first and it took getting used to? Or the elevation? Regardless, there was no amount of the boobs that would get him to calm down, so after Chris and I quietly yelled at one another, we finally decided to get in the car and drive. We all climbed out of the tent in our PJs, got the car cranked, and took off. Meanwhile, the youngsters next to us who were sleeping in their van were up by this time and glaring at us. We didn’t make any friends there, that’s for sure.

But we turned lemons into lemonade! ha ha ha. Chris found a diner (thank you offline Google maps) about 30 minutes away and it was a great side trip to Mono Lake for some views and pancakes. In our PJs – did I already mention that? Then we drove back to camp, got packed up, and took off mid-morning for our 4.5-hour drive to Death Valley.

This drive was splendid. It was really humbling to see the ranges of mountains I’d climbed just 3 years ago, but from the road! We even stopped in Lone Pine for lunch (where Mt Whitney, the end of the JMT, is) and had lunch at the same spot where we all ate the day after our giant walkabout (Alabama Hills Cafe).  Then we spent some outdoor time in the nearby park before finishing our drive to Death Valley.

Now, Death Valley. Getting down to the valley was a real butt-clincher. I was terrified during that drive and I swore I was in a board on Mario Kart. There was even a car in front of us that literally stopped IN THE ROAD while a car was coming on the other side. It was cool scenery and all, but boy was I glad to finally get to our hotel – even if it was the shittiest of all shitty hotels (note – never stay in a hotel that is undergoing renovations). Whatever though – all we cared about was a night in a bed with Wilder in his pack n play. Oh, and “free” ice. Oh, and Wilder getting to practice his walking some more – I think he was upset in Yosemite that he couldn’t walk around much, so when we put him down in the hotel, he took off and walked until he fell asleep.

Day 6: It was great to get a good night’s sleep in a bed. Now, let me tell you – the mat we have in the tent is great (ExPed Duo), but it’s loud, and you have to make sure your toddler child has enough space too AND doesn’t wake up when you need to readjust after your leg goes dead, so a bed is just, well, luxurious. We squeezed the pack n’ play into the bathroom, so with Wilder in another “room” than us, it meant he’d sleep all night and not get up until 7:30, instead of waking up shortly after sunrise, either screaming or wanting to play (see future posts).

Ok, so today we had to get to Zion National Park where we had reservations for 3 nights at Zion River Resort, an RV/tent campground. It took us pretty much all day, despite leaving around 10 for a 4-hour drive. This is when driving across the country with a toddler becomes challenging – the crying…the crying…the crying. We made it to Las Vegas at which point we had to pull into a gas station so I could feed him, and we just sat in the dang lot for 30 minutes. Then we drove through Vegas (which is, in my opinion, quite lame) and ended up having lunch near some race track before hitting the road. We then made it another hour or so and had to stop again, at which point we hung out at rest stop at the AZ/UT border for another 30 minutes. After a stop at Target for some forgotten items (can opener!) and a few groceries, we finally made it to the resort around 6, at which point we quickly set up camp and had dinner. Wilder immediately took off, walking around on rocks and grass – things he hadn’t been too excited about until now. The downside? He also liked “eating” the rocks. They were small pebbles that were the perfect grab-able size to put in his mouth – so every time he was hanging out on the rocks (which was a lot since that’s where our tent and table was), a rock would go into his mouth and a few seconds later he’d spit it out. Rinse and repeat. After a few times of doing this, we stopped worrying about him choking since he was clearly doing it for fun and not really to eat them. Still weird. And gross. By the end of our trip, our campsite had the cleanest rocks on site ;).

Given we’d also lost an hour due to entering Mountain time zone, Wilder probably went to sleep around 9:30 instead of his usual 8, but he was so pumped there was nothing that was gonna change that! He had a friend next door (a 5 year old girl named Mia) and lots of room to walk – what more could you ask for?!

Day 7: Thank freaking goodness this first night of camping here went swimmingly. Wilder slept all night and woke up around 6, but this time he wasn’t screaming. He was happy, smiling, and bapping us on the head to wake up. That’s the Wilder I know! We happily got up at 6 (much better than 5, although it was actually 5 in Pacific time, but ssshhhh!!!), made breakfast, and starting figuring out our day.

Zion is a very busy place. We drove into the town right outside the park (about 20 minutes from resort) and walked into the park because you have to take the free shuttle to get to destinations. The part we hadn’t planned was that the wait for the shuttle at 10am was over an hour. And it was already like 90 outside. UGH. We made the best of it – talked to some folks in line, bought our requisite Zion sticker for our cargo box, and finally got on the shuttle. Now, try keeping a 13 month old who’s been in a backpack for an hour still on a 30 minute shuttle ride. Fortunately he was hungry so I fed him most of the time, but still.

Anyway, we finally got to the end to do the River Walk trail which was a couple of miles and pretty easy, and then waded in the water into The Narrows for a bit before we decided the rocks were too unstable to keep going. It was pretty fun, and since we were in water, Wilder was totally excited.

I didn’t get to see much of the park on the shuttle ride in the morning, but the afternoon trip back was pretty spectacular. Zion is a beautiful place – and definitely a “we’re not in California anymore” realization as the granite in Yosemite was replaced by the red rocks in Zion. Equally amazing, but so so different.

We headed back towards camp at which point Wilder promptly fell asleep in the car – surprise! He had a small nap on the way in and while we were getting ready once parked that morning, so he was due for a good one. Rather than waking him up after 15 minutes, we detoured and went up to see the Kolob Reservoir area, which is essentially another entrypoint into Zion that is less traveled. It was a pretty sweet drive and allowed for a nice 1.5 hour nap. Then we got back to camp, made dinner, hung out in the grass for a while and called it a night.

Day 8: While the second night at camp wasn’t as amazing as the first, Wilder still woke up happy. The difficulty with camping with little ones is that, when they wake up at night, you can’t necessarily do like you do at home. If Wilder wakes up at home or in a hotel, for example, he might cry/whimper for about 5 minutes, and he’ll put himself back to sleep. Well, five minutes is enough to wake up the whole campground, so you have to just give in and quiet him quickly – which in this case, means I have to nurse him back to sleep – something I haven’t had to do in a while now. But we knew this would happen, so we just rolled with it. And he slept in until about 6:30, which was an improvement!

Chris did most of our hike planning, and had found a cool 5-mile or so hike on the Kolob Canyon side of the park (another less-visited area), but as we pulled up to the entrance, there was a giant “closed” sign – apparently they were doing updates to the area this summer. Whoops. So instead of that, we quickly decided to check out the tunnel that leads to the East side of Zion. We had a minor ‘run out of gas’ freakout, and rather than sitting in a super long line to head back through the tunnel, we drove on to the next town and got gas, then ate lunch at Thunderbirds, a restaurant Chris’ parents recommended. Food was great, but the best part was that Wilder had a little fan club there. A family ooohed and aahhed over him on the way in and once we were seated, they were right beside us. So we spent the entire meal watching them flirt with Wilder and he just giggled and squealed the whole time. They came up afterwards and gushed over him some more and as usual, he was totally enamored with the new people smiling at him.

On the way back in to Zion there was parking available at one of the hikes we wanted to do, so we grabbed a spot and tossed Wilder into the backpack and went on our way! This was a relatively easy up and down hike to Canyon Overlook, which had some of the most beautiful views of the park. We took lots of pictures and had a grand ol’ time. I’d definitely recommend this little hike to anyone going to Zion – not too much elevation gain, rails in the areas that looked a little sketchy, and a hike that doesn’t involve a shuttle through the park – win!

We made our way back through the park and stopped at the weird little place called Fort Zion to check out the wares, and to enter the petting zoo where we got to feed a llama – this one didn’t spit at us.

We took it easy for the rest of the night and Wilder got to play with his friend Mia a little when we got back to camp.

Side note: A lot of people think we are absolutely crazy for going on a 6 week road trip with a toddler. I agree, sometimes, and during those first few days at Yosemite and the 2 long drives afterwards, I was wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into! But around today was when we really hit our stride, I think. We had a routine at camp, we’d figured out how to work the drives to and from places into a car nap (with very little effort!), and we absolutely learned to roll with the punches and not make a big deal about anything. So far, that’s really my biggest piece of advice – don’t get too set on any one thing – just know that no matter what you do each day that it’s going to be pretty epic – and just be happy to have the opportunity to do it ;).

Next up – Bryce, Arches, and then we’re off to Boulder!

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