UT Day 7 - French Pastries, Photos, and Freakishly Beautiful Nature
Today started with a trip to an extremely cute cafe/French bakery/shed in Cedar City called the French Spot. It’s a family run business started by a former French pastry chef who traveled all around Europe before settling in Southwest UT. Between the adorable exterior, and the pedigree of baking talent I can see why it’s such a popular little spot.
The coffee was great, but unsurprisingly the star of the show was this amazing almond croissant. Just the right balance between sweet and buttery and crunchy and fluffy. A perfect breakfast snack.
After breakfast, I set out to Springdale home of Zion National Park, supposedly the most beautiful of all the nation parks in Utah (which puts it pretty high in the running for most beautiful national park in the country). The drive up and Springdale itself were also pretty lovely, and, for a small town, the constant flow of tourists and hikers keeps its bustling. Rather than being just a tourist trap though, Springdale has a real sense of community and some really nice restaurants and art galleries.
On a whim, I decided to check out one of these galleries that kept on popping up in TripAdvisor recommendations: The David J. West Gallery. David is a fine arts photographer from New Jersey who has found his muse exploring and photographing Zion. These photographs were jaw-dropping, and if they weren’t literally from just a few miles up the road they’d almost look like they were from a different planet. All the colors and rock formations were so stunning. The photographer himself manned the shop, and he was a pleasure to talk to, sharing coffee, water, and stories. I ended up buying some postcards, because he was so nice and they were so lovely. Below are some of my favorites, but you can check out more of his work (including some excellent pottery by a friend of his that was also on display in the shop) here
Plus how can you not love the guy he had working the door:
After taking in the art, it was time to check out the park for myself. I had a bit of an adventure finding parking nearby, not feeling like paying inflated within-the-park lot prices, but it was a beautiful day for a little stroll. I think slowing down and entering the park by foot also had the advantage of me allowing me to talk a little longer to the park rangers selling admission, so I learned more about the America the Beautiful Pass and realized I should have bought one ages ago, because with the amount of the country I’d be seeing I’d definitely get my money’s worth (I believe on average it pays for itself after three parks). I picked up a parks pass, and made my way in.
Zion is absolutely massive, clocking in at 229 square miles! To help visitors navigate this beautiful sprawling monstrosity, there’s a park shuttle service that brings you all over the park to the different trails, so you can be a little bit lazy on your way to doing some hiking. While I was waiting for the shuttle, i was happy to notice the that the statue of a park fire fighter they have near the visitor center apparently has very popular nipples because over time they’ve been rubbed so much by visitors that they’re a totally different color than the rest of statue.
Normally on long bus rides, I tend to fall asleep but the views in Zion were so varied and stunning I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. You really get your bang for your nature buck here, because the gigantic park contains just about every geologic formation you can think of including but not limited to: mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches. The park is also located perfectly at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert so it contains a huge variety of scenes and colors ranging from green green woodlands and wetlands to red rocky deserts all just sort of jumbled together. The enormity of the park also doesn’t just sprawl outward but also vertically with the lowest canyon being 3,666 ft deep and the highest mountain peak reaching 8,726 ft high (just about a 2 mile difference in elevation!). It was really kaleidoscopic effect driving through all of that.
The bus stopped at 9 different jumping off points for different trails and adventures. Trails ranged from gentle half-mile strolls to very ambitious rugged trails featuring rock climbing to reach certain points. I think we can all tell which end of that spectrum I skewed toward, but I actually saw people out the window climbing up rock faces so that was my favorite kind of thrill-seeking: vicarious.
I eventually stopped at the very last bus stop called the Temple of Sinawava, named after the coyote god of the Southern Paiute people. From this jumping off point, I did the gentle but scenic 2 mile Riverside Walk, which runs into Zion Canyon via the Virgin River. I don’t think I’ve ever walked in a real canyon before, but it was so lovely and oddly peaceful being totally surrounded by sturdy towering rock formations. It was also utterly surreal having driven through deserts to get here and then suddenly being surrounded by lush greenery all along the river. It felt like I was back in New England at spring. Honestly there’s not much more I can say that wouldn’t be better off shown through pictures:
Some highlights from the trail for me were areas where it was obvious the park designers had tried their best to preserve the wilderness feel that the first visitors must have felt or areas that revealed natural phenomena that I had never seen before. For the former, I submit a precarious little natural arch beautifully and ominously looming over the man-made trail, and for the latter, I submit “weeping rocks” natural springs that form in the porous Navajo sandstone that makes up large portions of the canyon walls. It was so otherworldly.
All the beautiful scenery in Zion isn’t just for show, and the park is home to an abundance of wildlife including 289 species of birds, 79 of mammals, 28 of reptiles, 7 of fish, and 6 of amphibians. I didn’t see all of these critters first hand but I did see plenty of fish in the rivers and streams, and more excitingly I did get to see this Bambi looking son of gun just grazing and frolicking in the trees.
The only slight disappointment with the hike was that normally, if you’re willing to a little more strenuous hiking at the end of your Riverwalk, the trail will actually continue to the Narrows, the narrowest and also probably the most famous part of the park. Unfortunately, it had rained recently and because it’s such a narrow space, the park rangers had deemed it too treacherous for the day and closed it off. Luckily, brave hikers on drier days have taken some photos of The Narrows in all their weird and wondrous glory:
After finishing my river walk, I took the shuttle bus back to the visitor center. I made sure to sit on the same side of the bus as when I shuttled up so I’d see totally different sights this time around and I was not disappointed. This might be the rare national park where you could really have a great time without doing any walking at all.
After all that hiking and shuttling, I got a hearty meal at the park’s own brew-pub (something I personally believe every national park should institute): Zion Canyon Brewing Company. For food, I decided to do a savory mix and match of different apps because I just couldn’t choose one. I went with the stout infused beef stew which came with some lovely homemade rosemary biscuits and the two managed to pack in a whole lot of flavor and really warm me up. The star of the show though was the absolutely massive Pretzel sticks that came with a decadent lager infused cheese sauce for dipping all for an incredible $3! The pretzels were the perfect mix of doughy and crunchy and what’s not to love about a combination of beer and cheese. For non-cheesy beers, I went with a flight of four of their house beers, a pilsner, an amber, a brown ale, and a coffee stout. Lest I sound too predictable, my favorites did go in descending order of darkness but everything had really great flavor and smooth drink-ability that really felt refreshing after all that exploring.
As I was walking out of the Brewpub, I noticed a cool piece of art by the front of the parking lot that featured several locks arranged in a circular pattern. The locks, much like those on the famous Pont des Arts Bridge, were meant to symbolize loving bonds and connections. I’m not sure about any of that but the gentle swinging in the breeze and shining in the sun of the locks did make for a pretty captivating piece of art in its own right.
With that I bid adieu to Zion and prepared myself for the drive to Nevada with a little help from the fine folks at River Rock Roasting Company, A cute looking coffee cabin that had a convenient drive through and a mean cold brew that was exactly what I needed.
While I was driving out of the State, I did have to stop at the Fort Zion Trading Post, a goofy little tourist center with a diner and gift shop in the town of Virgin, UT. The thing that caught my eye though was that they had also created an entire little ghost town that looked like it came straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. It might be a tourist trap, but they definitely knew how to catch your eye. I was in particular a big fan of the Wild Ass Saloon.
And with that last sidetrack, I said goodbye to another state and made the three hour drive down to Henderson, Nevada to see my aunt Janet and her family. When I got there, any road weariness disappeared and I ended up staying up decently late for a lovely evening of shepherd’s pie and sharing stories. It’s easy forget, spending so much time traveling solo, just how nice it is to be in a real home with your own family. It was a perfect way to end the night and the week as a whole.
Favorite Random Sightings: Bumper Sticker that says “Silly boys jeeps are for girls”; Boomer’s Bloomers; Doggy Dude Ranch; Lazy Lizard; A street sign saying “So far so rad”
Regional Observations: The temperature and elevation change from the snowy mountains near Salt Lake to the deserts in Southern Utah is just wild. Possibly the most natural variation of any state I’ve been to so far.
Albums Listened To: Ska The Third Wave by Various Artists; Ska-Core, the Devil & More by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones; Skandalous: I’ve Gotcha Covered by Various; Skank for Brains by Various Artists; Skarmageddon by Various (just Sister Sister by the Slackers)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
Why did the Turkey cross the road? To prove he wasn’t a Chicken
Favorite Coffee: Pure coffee- Sugar House Coffee in SLC; Coffee + Food -Greenhouse Effect Coffee and Crepes
Favorite Bar: Highwest Distillery and Saloon in Park City
Favorite Beer: Wasatch Brewing Devestator Double Bock (though their Polygamy Porter wins best name)
Favorite Restaurant: Bruges Waffles and Frites in SLC
Favorite Attraction: Natural- Zion National Park in Springdale; Man-made- Gilgal Gardens in SLC
Favorite Open Mic- Wiseguys for the good-sized audience, but Wild Pepper for the camaraderie
General Impression of the UT Comedy Scene- Very supportive, welcoming, and surprisingly diverse for a state not super known for their diversity. I think a lot of people, myself included, probably anticipated more clean comedy coming from a place with such a high Mormon population, but SLC is still a real city and the ratio of clean to dirty comedy was about the same as anywhere else I’d been. They also in general had a good willingness to go along with silly premises, and I think maybe a slight preference for more traditional jokes as opposed to stories though there was definitely a good mix!
Songs of the day: