A Virgin River Revival

The love you deserve will clap for the parts of yourself you use to hide. The love you deserve will support you and help you believe in the person you are becoming. It will see gardens within you where you see cemeteries and it will be proud of you — not just when you are a shining example of success, but also when you are not.”

Bianca Sparacino

Well, for starters, I’m happy to report the case of the blues that hit during the drive through northeastern Arizona came and went. The blues were short-lived and we are indeed back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Stop eight: Lower Calf Creek Falls – Escalante, Utah

Lower Calf Creek Falls was our first hike in Bryce Canyon country. I took the day off so Arlo and I would have more time to explore the area. Our first order of business was the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

I learned that Lower Calf Creek was named for its use as a natural pen for calves back in the late 1800s. The area remained relatively unknown to tourists until the formation of the monument during the Clinton administration, and it shows.

After experiencing the hustle and bustle at Horseshoe Bend, it was refreshing to find a quieter spot off the beaten path. It reminded me of an old quote:

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.

Author Unknown

I’m guessing the remoteness of this place is part of what makes it so magical. In fact, now that I think about it, I can count on one hand the number of people we ran into during our hike.

If you have good eyes (or binoculars) keep an eye out for the ancestral Puebloan granaries and large petroglyphs that can be seen from posts 5, 6 & 7. Timeless evidence that the area has been cherished by people for thousands and thousands of years.

The path to Lower Calf Creek Falls runs along a narrow river bed filled with crystal, cool water. The elevation change of this hike is minimal and the trail is mostly sand, which makes for an easy climb. The falls themselves measure over 100 feet high and pool into a blue swimming hole about 3 miles from the trailhead. Had I not read anything about toxic algae prior to our arrival, it would’ve been free rein for Arlo but the last thing I needed, aside from any more mechanical issues, was a sick doggo.

There are simply no words to describe how beautiful the trail and the falls were. Pictures don’t even begin to do them justice and the hike far exceeded all of my expectations. This is the only AllTrails hike I’ve found with an unattested five-star rating, and for good reason because if it were up to me, it would get at least six.

You’ll find the entrance to the Lower Calf Creek campground off Highway 12, about 15 miles east of the quaint town of Escalante. If you ever find yourself passing through southeastern Utah, I highly, highly recommend building this stop into your flight plan.

Stop nine: Bryce Canyon National Park – Bryce Canyon City, Utah

On Thursday, we got up around 9am and after a quick game of fetch, I hit the road and headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. Luckily, Arlo was still recovering from the previous day’s excitement. I started the day off with a walk along the Rim Trail to take in all of the views. From there, I combined Two Bridges with the Queen’s Garden Trail which made for a slow, icy loop. Despite the cold weather and heavy crowds, the park was nothing short of amazing and the hoodoos give the drizzle castles of South Dakota’s Badlands a run for their money.

After a little more meandering and a gas station lunch on a park bench, I returned to the cottage for a long, hot shower. Later, I took Arlo back to the park so we could catch the sunset at Sunrise Point–which was yet another remarkable site to see. And without further adieu, it was time for some turkey.

I think the Thanksgiving day Buffet at Ruby’s Inn was almost as popular as the Thanksgiving day hikes at Bryce Canyon. And while the whole experience couldn’t touch a Thanksgiving day on Wisconsin’s northshore, Ruby’s mashed potatoes definitely hit the spot after a week of nothing but gas station food.

Stop ten: Zion National Park – Springdale, Utah

The drive through Zion was more incredible than I imagined it’d be and made our 45-minute wait at the east entrance totally worth it. We drove through the park on Mount Carmel’s scenic highway and saw everything from canyons, to mountains, to tunnels and a good amount of tourist t-shirts. Then we parked the car at the Zion Nature Center (pro tip) and went for a nice walk along the Pa’rus Trail.

Arlo kept a big, goofy smile on his face for the rest of the afternoon and if I had to guess, I’d say he likes it here.

I returned to Zion without Arlo the following day to do some more hiking, including the challenging ascent to Scout’s Lookout and a more leisurely walk along the Narrows riverside. The shuttle system was a lot less scary than I’d made it out to be in my head. And although I didn’t win the permit lottery to hike up to Angel’s Landing, nor did I have the courage to rent a wet suit and take on the Narrows — I’ll most definitely be back to do them both at a later (and warmer) date.

I finished the day at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub with good beer (the Foray Pomegranate kettle-soured ale) and even better company. Let me tell you, nothing beats the pleasant shock and utter hilarity of randomly running into your best friend from college at a national park. Of course, it would’ve been even better to end the day with a best friend, a beer and a Badger Football win against the Minnesota Gophers to reclaim the axe, but such is life when you’re a Wisconsin sports fan in this day and age.

If it isn’t a “71-64 victory against Kentucky in the 2015 Final Four Tournament” energy – I don’t want it.

In the last seven days, three different people have said to me, “I’m proud of you,” essentially for chasing the dream and pulling the trigger on this trip. Granted, one of those people also happens to be my mom and so that one only half counts. But each time I read those messages it made me realize how powerful a sentence like that can be. All three times it almost brought me to tears because for the first time in a really long time, I’m kind of proud of me, too.

After spending the better part of two decades hating myself, this type of pride feels something like a grassroots revival. I never thought words of affirmation were very high up on my list of love languages but hey, like I said, we’re learning as we go.

The love you deserve will support you and help you believe in the person you are becoming.

Next up: California.

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