2020 COVID Adventure Zion National Park Part Two

Yikes! One step forward and two steps back. This week California sent our county back to start in the game of “Open Up the Economy.” The current virus surge triggered feelings of sadness, despair, and grief for the many people suffering under the weight of COVID-19.

Virgin River flowing over boulders
Virgin River

Then, while preparing the photos and narrative for this post, sadness turned to thankfulness. How lucky are we that so far our family has escaped infection and illness? How lucky are we that we have a home to keep us safe? And how lucky were we for the opportunity to visit Utah before the virus worsened across the nation? Pretty dang lucky, I’d say, and for that, we’re very thankful.

A path, trees, and balancing rock
Balancing Rock on the Riverwalk Trail

While traveling we thought we had found a way to “live with the virus” that was safe for the people we encountered and for us. Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to put our newly learned skills to the test anytime soon.

Virgin River with low water level
Virgin River

Instead, we will abide by the new restrictions the health department has placed on us and look back on our trip to Utah while reminding ourselves that someday we will again travel the roads and continue exploring the United States. We can wait a few more months. Hope it won’t be a year. If only we had a crystal ball to tell the future.

Skinny tree trunks growing in a swamp
Zion National Park’s Swamp along the Virgin River

So, join us as we look back at our second day trip into Zion National Park.

Zion National Park adopted a reservation system for their shuttle into the canyon where many of the hikes and sites are located. The reservations are required for two reasons. The first is to reduce the number of people on the shuttles, and the second is to avoid the crowded long lines of people waiting to board them. Our attempt to snag four tickets the day before was unsuccessful, so we signed up for a private shuttle, costing $30.00 per person rather than the $1.00 the parked charged.

Ferns clinging to a cliff
I call this Fern Wall. The Weeping Rock is 100 times more impressive, but it was closed.

We parked in the South Entrance visitor center parking lot and took the short walk across the bridge to Springdale. The gear store and our shuttle stop were in the shopping center close to the park entrance. I wasn’t too happy about sitting behind, in front of, and next to strangers in the van. The concept of social distancing was not adhered to on this shuttle as it was on the one the park ran. Everyone did wear a mask, though. I hoped it would be enough protection.

Virgin River pools and boulders
Virgin River

Our first stop was the Temple of Sinawava, which leads to the Riverside Walk and the Narrows trails. We took the Riverside Walk to the Narrows (photos above), and waved goodbye as Kevin and Bailey, wearing their special boots and grasping their hiking staff, continued their trek in the Narrows.

People standing in a rock riverbed with mountains towering in the background
Random visitors at entrance to the Narrows Walk

Jon and I decided keeping the virus at bay was enough to deal with. No need to add the toxic cyanobacteria bloom in the Virgin River to our risk of possible illnesses. So we hopped back on the shuttle and got off at The Grotto. From there we took the Kayenta and Emerald Trails to Zion Lodge.

Trees, grass, picnic tables, and building
Visitors will find picnic tables and restrooms at The Grotto
Towering canyon cliffs and mountains above the Virgin River
Virgin River and canyon cliffs from Kayenta Trail
Trees, canyon cliffs, and Virgin River
Virgin River from Kayenta Trail
Shrubs, towering cliffs, and blue sky
Lower Falls from the falls trail
Waterfall stained rock cliff
Hard to see the waterfall from this spot

Zion National Park did not receive the normal amount of snow and rain this past year, so Lower Falls was more of a trickle than waterfall.

A trickle of a waterfall
October 2020 the fall was like a trickle

This is a photo from October 2017 when the park received more precipitation.

Larger waterfall
October 2017 there was more water flowing

The trail under the waterfall’s overhang is slippery. Use the fencing to prevent falls.

Red path to the waterfall with ferns growing on the cliff
Lower Falls trail

When we reached the lodge, Jon’s attitude turned grumpy when he realized our shuttle didn’t stop there.

Bridge across the Virgin River
Bridge across the Virgin River from trail to the Lodge

We had another mile to go on The Grotto trail. The trails we took made a loop, normally our favorite. This time, it subjected me to bouts of grumbling as Jon trailed behind me.

Read rock towering cliffs and blue sky
I think the mesa on the left is the Sinawava Temple

We went back to where we picked up the shuttle that morning. A mocha frappuccino and protein bar perked us up as we recovered and waited for Kevin and Bailey to return from the Narrows hike.

So how was it hiking under the threat of COVID-19? Mostly I felt safe. The majority of hikers on the Riverside Trail wore masks. There were a few groups with college-aged people who walked around like, “Virus? What virus?” And other groups where there was one, maybe two, holdouts in a family of seven or eight were like, “No mask for me. Don’t tread on my rights.”

red rock towering cliffs and building
Back at the Grotto

That was okay because the trail was fairly wide, and it was easy to keep our distance. The Kayenta and Emerald Pools Trails was another story. The narrower path made it difficult to keep our distance from the “mask-less” folks.

View of craggy cliffs behind a courtyard
Sitting under the overhang, drinking our shakes and enjoying the view

Our hike took us much longer than it should have since we had to step off the trail and let people without masks pass before we continued. We thought for sure one of us would end up infected. We’re happy to report our fear did not materialize. After that experience, we only hiked in places where there weren’t a bunch of people.

Man and woman relaxing on beach chairs.
Kevin and Bailey relaxing after their walk through the Virgin River

So was it worth the $30.00 shuttle ride? We have to say yes. Hiking the narrows was an item on Kevin and Bailey’s bucket list, and we got to see a few sites in a different light than we did before. Besides, with our Lifetime Senior Pass, we entered the park for free.

The next day, we moved to Zion Wright Family Ranch for a couple of nights of dispersed camping to see a different side of Zion.

Stay safe.

2020 COVID-19 Adventure: Zion National Park Part One

We counted the trip to the California coast a success, so it was time to map out our next adventure. Initially, we planned on a week or two in San Diego to visit our son, Kevin, and his better half, Bailey. They had other ideas in store for us. When they mentioned Zion and Bryce, we said, “Sure. Let’s go.”

With the trailer loaded with food and clothes, we made our first leg of the trip to Barstow, California, on October 3, 2020. Smoke from the California fires filled the skies until we reached the Tehachapi Summit. I switched the AC from recycle to fresh air and we took big deep breaths as we descended into the Mojave Desert.

The next morning we left Barstow at sunrise, which wasn’t all that early, only 6:50 a.m. It sure looked like smoke or dust or something had shaded the sky with orange and yellow hues. The iPhone 8 captured a surreal image.

Sunrise in the desert
Desert Sunrise

In Las Vegas, Nevada, we caught our first glimpse of the new Raider’s Allegiant Stadium from the freeway. Bitterness that the team left Oakland, again, still exists in the Bay Area, although I’m sure fans in Las Vegas are happy about the move. The stadium should be a boom to the City of Las Vegas once we come out of the pandemic, and fans are let back into the sports arenas.

View of Raider's Football Team's Allegiant Stadium
Raider’s New Nation

The quick breakfast we ate that morning had long worn off when we hit Las Vegas, which would have been a good place to stop and have a bite to eat. We try to avoid the big cities for our stops because it’s too difficult to maneuver through traffic and find a place to park with the rig. So, we sucked it up and drove the next two hours to St. George. That Cracker Barrel sign never looked so good by the time we arrived.

Cracker Barrel restaurant parking lot and sign
Breakfast, here we come.

In the Bay Area, dining options were limited to takeout and outdoor seating. In Southwestern Utah, they offered inside dining or takeout. Since we hadn’t been inside a restaurant for seven months, we chose the takeout. Cracker Barrel isn’t usually my first choice for a restaurant. I much prefer to buy food from an independent store or a local chain. Jon, on the other hand, loves their pecan pancakes. We put on our masks, locked up the trailer, and set out to order our meals.

We were leery about all the people waiting outside, rocking in the chairs on the porch or standing next to the railing and ignoring the six feet of distance we had practiced since March. Only half of them wore masks. At the time, wearing face coverings was only a suggestion, not a state mandate. The state now requires masks in all state-owned buildings and individual counties may have their own requirements.

We kept our distance the best we could, stepped up to the podium, and ordered our meals. A few minutes later, we were inside the trailer, chowing down on the best Cracker Barrel breakfast and cup of coffee I had ever had. Either the cooks do a better job at the Cracker Barrel in St. George, or I was so hungry, a dog bone would have tasted good to me.

With our bellies filled, we drove the remaining thirty minutes to WillowWind RV Park in Hurricane, Utah, where we had booked three nights. Kevin and Bailey arrived a few hours later.

Rv and truck parked in campsite
Campsite at WillowWind RV Park

On our first day in Zion National Park, we checked out the situation for catching the shuttle (we couldn’t get tickets for the park shuttle, so paid for a private one) and renting equipment Kevin and Bailey would need for their river walk the next day. Then we drove to the east end to see other sections of the park and find a place to eat our lunch.

People taking selfie at foot of arch in the making cliff
An arch in the making
Zion cliffs with white tops
Reverse view from Arch in the making
Cliffs in Zion NP and shadows of people
Look at that view

We passed the Canyon Overlook Trail on our way to the tunnel, and there were no parking spots. So we kept driving and found a place with a bit of fall color to eat our lunch and take a break.

Two men and one woman in a desert setting
Shootin’ the breeze
Pine trees and mountain formation
Navajo sandstone
Closer view of trees and red cliffs
Fall is near
Rock formation with trees
View from picnic site

Checkerboard Mesa is a good place to stop for views. There is plenty of parking, information signs, and plenty of sites to see. Unfortunately, the position of the sun made it difficult to capture the checkerboard feature on the mesa. Earlier in the day would have been better.

Checkerboard Mesa mountain formation

Checkerboard Mesa

The sun was coming from a better angle, so the colors pop in the photo of East Temple.

Mountain Formation in shape of a wedding cake
East Temple

And here are two more views along the road.

View of mountains and cliffs
View of mountains and cliffs
Geological formations
View of geological formations

Outside of the park on the east side is The Get and across the street is an RV and tent campground and cabins to rent.

Rock cliff looms over building
The Get sells a bit of groceries, sandwiches, gifts, and souvenirs.

On our way back to the west side of the park, we scouted around for a parking space at the Canyon Overlook and ended up having to stop and wait for one-way traffic to clear. When the west-bound vehicles started flowing, a car just ahead of us pulled out, and we slipped right in as if it was all planned perfectly.

View from Canyon Overlook Trail

At first we thought the overlook was close by. It turned out further than we thought. I brought my water bottle with me, but no one else did. We hoofed it most of the way, at least to the section where the cave was and we could peek down into the canyon. So, word of caution: come prepared for a hike, not a short walk.

Zion cliffs, yellow flowers i the foreground
View from Canyon Overlook Trail
Horse head rock formation
Anyone else see a horse’s head?
View of cave opening
View of cave from Canyon Overlook Trail
View of canyon opening
A place to rest
View from cave into canyon

Heading west through the tunnel gives a person a good view out the windows. Luckily, no one was behind us, so Jon stopped the truck for a couple of seconds so we could capture the view with our cameras.

Zion cliffs from tunnel window
View from one of the tunnel windows

After the tunnel there are a few places to stop and take in the views and spot the windows in the rock walls.

Cliff in Zion showing the makings of a natural arch
Another arch in the making
Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel window

Next up we have another day of more fun and games in Zion.

Stay Safe

Exploration of the California Coast Continuation

Before we continue our exploration of the California Coast and our visit to Año Nuevo Point and Island, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, and the Town of Pescadero, a brief update about our absence from WordPress.

As I write this, it is November 4, 2020, the day after the quadrennial presidential election, and the results of the election are still up in the air. Are we all biting our fingernails? We spent the past month in Utah, Arizona, on the eastern side of the California Sierras, and Nevada. Often we lacked reliable cell and WiFi service that hampered our ability to publish posts. The lack of connectivity was not always a bad thing. It kept us unaware of the pandemic marching across the nation and away from the bickering political campaigns for large chunks of time. We’re back in the real world now, and will publish future articles on our October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure.

Until then, here’s a look at what else we encountered along the California Coast in September. To see the first article, click here.

Año Nuevo Point and Island

We had visited Año Nuevo State Park several years ago and were excited about seeing this unique location again. The park includes the Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve, which protects the breeding colonies of northern elephant seals. The seals are year-round residents that peepers like me can normally view by permit or guided walk.

Trail leading toward Cypress Dairy
Trail to and from elephant seal viewing area

We took the trail to the preserve, walking through walls of poison oak trimmed back from the trail. Little blue daisies dotted the path along the way.

Poison oak and blue daiseys
Poison oak and blue daisies

At the end of the trail, a ranger told us that guided walks were canceled because of COVID-19. The sound from the other side of the hill made me think the seals were having a party and enjoying their secluded cove without the prying eyes of tourists. I so wanted to watch them in action. I’ll be keeping tabs on the website for when the viewing area reopens. These eyes want to pry.

We walked around the short trail while fog hung close to the shoreline, partially obscuring the view of the nearby hills and pelican colonies that breed on the little islands.

Foggy view of coastline and flying birds
Foggy skies
Coastline with islands
A touch of blue

Along the way, several species of birds enjoyed splashing in a freshwater wetland, cleaning their feathers.

Birds in a lagoon
Wetland attracts birds of all types

Other features at Año Nuevo are the historic buildings of the Cypress Dairy. Edwin and Effie Dickerman built the farm in 1881 to make butter and cream. In the 1930s, the family switched to growing artichokes and Brussels sprouts, crops which still grow in the area today.

White farmhouse
Cypress Dairy house

The State of California added the farm to Año Nuevo State Park in 1968 when they purchased the ranch. We enjoyed being the only ones walking around the buildings and taking photos. Had the buildings been open and docents nearby, I’m sure we would have heard interesting stories about the Dickerman family.

Wagon wheels in a garden
Cypress Dairy farm equipment on display

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park

A short distance from where we stayed at Costanoa stands Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest lighthouses in America at 115 feet. The lighthouse began service on November 15, 1872, when the five-wick oil lamp was first lit. An automated LED beacon replaced the original Fresnel lens and is still an active U.S. Coast Guard navigation aid.

Coastline with Pigeon Point lighthouse on a bluff
Pigeon Point lighthouse across the bay

The lighthouse has been closed for repairs since December 2001 when the iron belt course fell off of the exterior. In August 2019, California State Parks announced funding for the stabilization and restoration project to begin the spring of 2020. In mid-2020 a request for proposals was to be released for the $9 million projects. Maybe next year they can start the project.

Lighthouse and buildings
Pigeon Point lighthouse
Lighthouse close up
A whole lotta rust up there

We missed out on seeing the elephant seals at Año Nuevo, but the harbor seals sunbathing on the little island near the lighthouse did not escape our notice.

Harbor seals on rocky island
Soakin’ up the rays

Next to the lighthouse are three rental houses for up to 10 people at a nightly rate of $350 to $500, depending on the time of year.

Hostel houses for rent
Hostel houses for rent

Twelve ships wrecked along the shore between Año Nuevo and Pigeon Point, between 1853 and 1953. The Point Arena, a steam schooner built in 1887, carrying cargo along California’s central coast, was one of the twelve ships that succumbed to the power of the sea.

Remnants of Point Arena hull
Remains of the Port Arena schooner

While loading tanbark at Pigeon Point, rough seas forced her on the rocks and tore a hole in the hull. The sailors watched in horror as the waves ripped her apart. They burned the remains to prevent danger to other ships, and everyone thought there was nothing left. Eighty years later in 1983, a five-ton section of the hull washed ashore at Año Nuevo as a testament to the power of storms and oceans. They hid from view a five-ton hunk of a hull for eighty years and then spit it out one day.

Pescadero, California

I had the pleasure of working near Pescadero a few times during my accounting days and was introduced to Duarte’s Tavern, where I remember having one of the best pieces of pie.

Duarte's Tavern building and sign
No pie for us. Duarte’s was closed.

We drove there expecting to buy a slice to take home. Unfortunately, they were closed. A couple walking by told us the restaurant hadn’t kept regular hours since the county enacted pandemic health restrictions.  I hope they survive the restrictions and the economic downturn. I’d sure love to taste the best pie I ever ate again. Will it taste as good as I remember?

The Country Bakery building and shops in sheds
Shops in sheds

A plaque on the building dated September 29, 1990, states the Duarte’s Tavern is run by the third and fourth generations of the Duarte Family. The plague also states that Frank Duarte started it all when he brought a barrel of whiskey from Santa Cruz in the 1890s and set up his bar.

Grocery building
Popular place for groceries and sandwiches

Closed during prohibition, Duartes reopened and expanded with the restaurant in 1937. The original building burned in 1926, but the bar was saved and is still in use today.

Old-fashioned white house with green trim.
House in Pescadero


I recently learned there’s a name for people like me who like to wander around cemeteries. I’m a taphophile, a person who is interested in cemeteries, funerals, and gravestones. I’m not so enamored with funerals, but cemeteries and gravestones pique my interest. And the more historic, the better. Pescadero has two cemeteries side-by-side on a hill at the end of the downtown area.

Bridge leading to a cemetery on a hill
Cemetery on the hill
Mt. Hope Cemetery sign
Mt. Hope Cemetery’s sign fell down

Mt. Hope Cemetery and St. Anthony’s Catholic Cemetery are not your typical modern-day cemeteries. No manicured grounds there. One must walk carefully around the plots to avoid tripping over a molehill or twisting an ankle in a gopher hole.

Trees and headstones in a cemetery
St. Anthony’s Cemetery

Family plots, containing generations of ancestors and relatives, are sectioned off. Some plots are well maintained while others appear abandoned. New headstones, small and large, mix in with the faded and eroded markings from historic eras.

Trees, lillies, and headstones in a cemetery
Lillies add color to this family plot

Why do I like cemeteries? I’m intrigued by the people buried there. Each grave represents a person who lived on this earth, who was loved, who was special in their own right. There are so many stories buried in graveyards, and I yearn to know them all.

Headstones in a cemetery
Old and new

What kind of life did they lead? What were their goals and achievements? What were their hardships and struggles? Who did they love? Did they have big families or small families? What were their views on politics, religion, and faith? Did they suffer, or did they lead happy lives?

Tree, crosses, and headstones in cemetery
Older family plot

And when I see a grave that holds the remains of a child, my heart breaks to think about the pain suffered by the parents, or the life that never grew and matured and loved.

Trees on a hill with gravestones
Tree protects the headstones

Maybe it’s the emotions that attract me to cemeteries, the happiness I feel for the person who lived a long life, the sadness for the person who did not, combined with the stories I imagine in my head from reading the names, the dates, and epitaphs. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll continue to turn my head whenever I pass a cemetery and want to stop the car, get out, and walk through the graves.

Well, that concludes our brief visit to the California Coast. Next up we’ll start our October 2020 COVID-19 Adventure.

Stay Safe

Exploring the California Coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz

Stand of eucalyptus trees, tall grasses, and mowed are in foreground
Eucalyptus grove

We were eager to try the renovations Jon completed on the fifth wheel these past months, yet hesitant to go too far from home. The coast looked like our best bet, so I booked five nights at the Santa Cruz North/Costanoa KOA for the week after Labor Day.

Fifth wheel trailer and white pickup campsite
The Todd’s Basecamp

Three days after reserving our site, approximately 7,000 lightning strikes in the San Francisco Bay Area ignited 350 fires. Many of the individual fires merged into huge infernos, including the SCU Lightning Complex south of us, which has burned 397,000 acres and finally reached full containment after 44 days on October 1, 2020.

Great blue heron strutting across green grass
Great blue heron

Cal Fire issued evacuations soon after the blazes expanded. Not only did I worry about the fire near us, I also worried about how close the KOA was to the CZU Complex Lightning fire since its perimeter stretched from Santa Cruz north to halfway to Half Moon Bay. Where was the campground in relation to the fire?

Path meanders between a wooden building and trees and grass
Path between restaurant and general store

The evacuation map showed them just north of the perimeter, and a message on their website confirmed their evacuation. Two weeks later the posting said they planned to open the day before our scheduled arrival. I was so glad to hear they were safe.

Wooden building with vegetation in the foreground
Cascade Restaurant and Bar

The CZU fire was about 85% contained when we drove to the coast. We didn’t see any signs of active fire other than the smoke that tinted the sky a pale orange and mixed with the low clouds and fog.

Giant chess game on platform with grass and a building in the background
Game of chess?

It wasn’t until the next day when we drove south to Santa Cruz that we saw the blackened hills, burned trees, and scorched earth next to what looked like the campground’s property line. The firefighters had saved the property from destruction. Many other buildings, farms, and ranches were not so lucky.

Landscape of green grasses in foreground, burned trees, and fire scared hills
Fire scarred hill across the highway from Año Nuevo State Park

Nearly 1,500 structures were destroyed, including the visitor center and headquarters of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I could not find statistics on the number of redwoods lost. Due to their hardiness and fire-resistant bark, most should survive. Although I heard some were cut down because they posed a danger to nearby trees. By spring, new trees should sprout and in three to four years, the sprouts will have grown 6-8 feet tall, assuming they receive plenty of sun and water. Drought could stunt their growth. It’s possible the park could open for hiking early in 2021. There’s no estimate on the opening of the campground or other facilities.

Vegetable garden
Entrance to the Costanoa garden, where a crew worked the soil and tended the plants

When we arrived at Costanoa, a crew from Servpro Disaster Recovery was onsite finishing up their work to get the resort back online. We did without cell service and reliable Wi-Fi access during our visit, which was fine with me. I enjoyed taking a break from the news and my email for a few days. Jon still watched cable television while I went outside to read or go for a walk.

Vegetable and flower garden
Corn, onions, tomatoes, and more growing in the garden

This park has a lot to offer its guests. The calming green grass, relaxing scent of eucalyptus, and a flower and vegetable garden were my favorites. Accommodations include the RV sites, various makes and sizes of cabins and tents, and a lodge. Add in a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; a small general store; and a parklike setting to complete the eco-adventure resort.

Humming bird sitting on a wire fence
Bees and hummingbirds swarmed around the garden

Equestrians can even bring their horses. Although there were none in residence during our stay, I could imagine the swishing of tails, snorting, and nickering of horses in the corrals.

Purple thistle of a globe artichoke
Globe Artichoke, cynara cardunculus

Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve is a short walk across Highway 1 from the campground. Trails lead through or next to eucalyptus groves, across Highway 1, and end at the beach. One trail is north of the property and the other is south.

Vegetable garden of swiss and red chard
Swiss and Red Chard

To avoid the news programs, I took off by myself on the north route one afternoon. There was a soft breeze blowing while I walked beside the eucalyptus grove. The sound of someone chopping wood in the grove made me question my adventure. I didn’t bother taking my wallet and cell phone since I wasn’t going shopping, and there was no cell service. I felt naked, carrying only my camera.

Yellow common hollyhock flower
Common Hollyhock, alcea rosea

I stopped and determined what I heard was only twigs and leaves rustling as they floated or crashed to the ground. No one chopping. So I continued, reciting an I’ll-be-okay mantra as I continued on the path.

Beach, ocean, and rock formations muted by fog and smoke
Secluded beach across Highway 1 from Costanoa
Boardwalk trail through a marsh
A boardwalk keeps feet dry over the marsh
Landscape of sandy trail, clumps of trees muted by fog and smoke
Campground is to the right of the clump of trees in the background

On another day, Jon and I took the south route to find the tide pools I’d seen on the map. We didn’t check the tide charts before setting out. That was okay. The exercise was our main goal, and now we know how to get there when we go to Costanoa again.

Beach scene with blue skies, rock formation and sand
High tide reveals no pools
Man with backpack walking near an ocean cliff
Around the rock to another cove
Dried bull whip kelp on sand
Bull whip kelp
Rock art on sand
Rock art

On our third morning, the fog cleared, and with it the smoke. Seeing blue skies for the first time in three weeks had me rushing outside and filling my lungs with the moist sea air to clear out the soot.

Some places we park our RV seem like ideal locations for a writing retreat. Costanoa is top on my list of such places. One of these days I’ll go on a retreat. In the meantime, I’ll fit in my writing whenever I can, wherever I am.

Next up we visit Año Nuevo Point and Island, Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, and the Town of Pescadero.

Stay safe.