When I thought of Zion before this trip, images of biblical times or the subterranean city in the Matrix movie came to mind. I now have a more extensive visual library on the name.

Zion National Park is located in southern Utah. Our expedition included myself, my Travel Agent (wife Carrie) and trusted guard dog/emotional service animal “Mini,” featured on the masthead photo for this site. Besides, “Mini” is one of the family, and she needed to broaden her travel horizons beyond our backyard.


Our trip would take us from hotel to hotel, Zion to Monument Valley, Arches, and Canyonlands to Bryce Canyon and back to Zion. The full loop visiting some of the most amazing Parks in the western United States. We did not know it, but this time of year (late May) the deserts and canyons were ablaze with color from flowering plants.

Michael McCollum 5/20/14 Close-up of bevertail cactus flowers.zion0005zion0002zion0003

Our first stay, and last stay, was at the Driftwood Lodge in Springdale, just west of the entrance to the park. Wonderful dog-friendly accommodations.

I would highly recommend this place. After a day of hiking/sightseeing or whatever, you rest on your own back porch with an unbelievable view. They are at http://www.driftwoodlodge.net

The photos on the website are what you see out your window. Just incredible.


Time for a hike!

After securing Mini at a pet babysitter  (“Krista’s Pet Care” 435-260-2040, and yes they have them for a reason, no dogs allowed in Zion National Park) we took the shuttle from our hotel in Springdale to “The Narrows” trail head. This is a favorite of non-strenuous hiking trails in the park. The shuttle was packed with foreigners speaking in their native tongue as loud as possible to drown out the bus guides super loudspeaker system describing the natural wonders around in his native tongue. Native tongue vs. native tongue. Busman won when the passengers disembarked.


We walked along an easy path for a mile or so, and then started walking in the Virgin River. I was glad there was no moss growing on the rounded boulders that made up the riverbed, as that would have been a deal breaker for the hike. After a while, the riverbed turned into sand, and the going was a lot easier. We did not make it all the way to what was said to be the best part of The Narrows, but we went far enough to enjoy some great scenery.


On the way down the trail from The Narrows, we encountered a pair of hikers approaching from the inbound direction. The young woman was wearing appropriate hiking gear from the waist down; her top was however more belonging to a renaissance fair costume. One wrong move and she was out!

I immediately averted by eyes from her to see her handsome male companion smiling at me with not a lot of teeth. He was also covered in tattoos and looking very fit. I surmised he could be a professional hockey player, as they also do not have a lot of front teeth. I came close to complementing him on his quantity and variety of tattoos with the expression “Hey, nice tats!” However, I instantly realized this could be mistaken for another expression, and instead said “Howdy, Nice Day!”

We passed without incident.zion0006


Another point of interest on this trail was the fair amount of people armed with what appeared to be fighting sticks. Almost everyone had one. I speculated there might be a marshal arts festival we had overlooked in the park brochure scheduled for that day. As it turned out, some shop was renting them to river waders to keep their balance. I did see a few waders that are more frugal with small logs used for the same purpose. I approved of the cheaper method.


Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

After leaving Monument Valley, we headed out for Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

Our first stop is at Newspaper Rock to catch up on non-recent events.

Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument is a Utah state monument featuring a rock panel carved with one of the largest known collections of petroglyphs. The first carvings at the site were made around 2,000 years ago, left by people from the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures. They say that they could be anything from story telling, hunting magic, clan symbols, or even accent graffiti.The site is located at the south entrance to Canyonlands National Park, south of Moab Utah.

Canyonlands National Park Utah, after the storm

canyonlands-arches0005Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs

canyonlands-arches0001Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs


The town of Moab is a mile or two south of the entrance to Arches National Park. I had looked it up and found it to be a place of great beauty and very photogenic. Unfortunately for us, the day we had to explore the area it was raining and the light was flat. We had enjoyed what was described by a local as “One of the best Lightning storms in years.” Mini did not agree on the enjoy part. She was pretty scared and tracked down the hotel outer and inner door with no coaxing. That day her memory of our “safe house” was deeply embedded.

Park Avenue, Arches National Park Utah


canyonlands-arches0006Arches National Park Utah

Being a great outdoor destination, there are a numerous fine-dining establishments to help replace any weight you might have shed during the day.

Moab boasts ADVENTURE!

Every other building appears to have some sort of off road, zip line, parachuting, jogging, bicycling, and any other outdoor activity you could possibly get involved in. This was a place for people on the move. Some of these people move too fast. A great place for the Highway Patrol, also on the move, to make money. We saw no less than three Utah High Patrol cruisers outside of Arches Nation Park pulling speeders over all day.

Canyonlands National Park is a spectacle. That is all you can say for it. Extraterrestrial landscapes, breathtaking vistas, and the most vivid colors. As the Forrest Gump said in his movie, “when the sun comes up, I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the earth began.” I cannot imagine pioneers traveling through this country without the comfort of air conditioning. This looks great, but you would not want to summer here.

Canyonlands National Park

carrieinthewest0001Canyonlands National Park after the storm

canyonlands-arches0004We visited a rock and mineral shop on the edge of Moab, and purchased some gems from Brazil. How they ended up there is a mystery for the ages.

A small boy and his mother approached Mini and I with the question, “Can I pet her?

Let me say first, that this is no nervous schizophrenic little dog you would not mind playing fetch at the rim of the Grand Canyon. She is well behaved and poses no immediate threat. That being said, “she has never bit anyone yet.” Famous last words. I warn those who might stray a hand within reach expectant of a warm greeting and a lick. She weighs four pounds dressed out, but sports razor sharp teeth. A formable opponent.

After that, they walked off disappointed, but not wounded. Who wants to find out?

Mini has still never bit anyone but me, and I probably deserved it.

Monument Valley

The day started in sunshine followed by an afternoon light rain. I had seen most of Monument Valley on television programs and movies. This was one of director John Ford’s backgrounds for “The Searchers,” said to be the greatest western movie ever made. A great scenic place. Our party consisted of myself, my wife Carrie and our trusted family pet “Mini”, a small but dependable protector of our home. She will be featured in future posts. We had planned to walk off trail in search of rattlesnakes and Gila monsters. Not!

I inserted a CD with the theme song from the movie “The Magnificent Seven” as our traveling in the west theme, along with soundtracks from Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns featuring Clint Eastwood. The desert was blooming with flowers. The main entrance to the valley is on the west rim, near the “The View Hotel,” and it sure had a view. From there, you can navigate your vehicle down a “road” through the valley. It is described as a road on the map, but on close examination, it is really more like a dried up stream bed, with oil pan/axle eating boulders strewn throughout the route. There was a span of 20 feet where it was a “normal” dirt road and the driving anxiety level decreased for about 10 seconds. A good 10 seconds. A wonderful 10 seconds. This is the kind of road you drive on when you are 16 years old, not as an adult. Also, every tourist appeared to be driving a rental vehicle and charging through the landscape when not tailgating the locals or us.

monumentval0002leyThe Red Earth

The valley is amazing! Everywhere you look another iconic image. There are also Navajo jewelry stations at every turnout. They drive out, set up tables, and sell their wares. I believe my wife Carrie bought something from every one of them.

I cannot imagine those poor souls bearing the heat in the middle of summer. I bet this place really cooks. They are probably conditioned to the weather having lived there for a few years, since 1400 AD.

monumentval0003leyForrest Gump Point

In the afternoon it started to sprinkle a little rain, not enough to make the drive any more hazardous than it already was, but added great light and clouds to the scenes being photographed.

View from hotel gift shop


The Hat

monumentval0005leyDSC_8083Life imitates art

We stayed in Mexican Hat, a little north of the Valley, in a pet-friendly motel, The San Juan Inn (which overlooked the San Juan River). It was a rustic experience that not only had the rooms, but a Trading Post and restaurant on site. Food was great, and being in Navaho country, they featured Indian fry bread. The town was named after a rock formation made from eroding sandstone, seen in many Warner Brother cartoons. I had half expected to see the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote racing down the road. We did see couple of real roadrunners near Zion, but not here. Another roadside attraction is Goosenecks State Park, just north of Mexican Hat. Yet another breathtaking view of the San Juan River.

A local told us that last year, April 1st, a local newspaper reported that the Mexican Hat rock formation had collapsed. The entire population drove out to the site to discover the April Fool’s Day prank, the rock was still standing.

We stopped for a “get out of Dodge” breakfast at the Hat Rock Cafe, in Mexican Hat. Had a great meal, featured Indian Bread, and good conversation with locals Monique and Vangeline, who were in charge at the time.Vangeline just happened to have native jewelry in her car, which Carrie had to have a look. That parking lot can get expensive, but the jewelry is beautiful.

After Our trip we viewed a VERY funny new release movie named “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. and almost all of it was shot in Monument Valley. The exact same places we were at. This was really neat to see the big valley on the big screen.