Magnificent Mountains of Springdale Utah and # Vegas Strong in Nevada

What to say about about Springdale, Utah? A small town in the shadow of the giant mountain ranges of Zion National Park it was originally settled in 1862 by Mormon farming communities fleeing flooding in nearby Northrop. It was they who named the canyon Zion.  At last count (2016) it had a population of 570. 

The town is made up largely of hotels, inns, restaurants, curio and gift shops and those selling outdoor activity gear. As it relies heavily on tourism many residents move out over the winter months or so we overheard. This year they had anticipated 6 million visitors! Certainly even when we booked months ago most places were full.

It’s an outdoor lovers mecca, perched right on the edge of the boundaries of Zion National Park a 229 square mile park in Southwest Utah. The mountains that tower over the town range from 3,666 to 8,726 feet with a diverse ecosystem.

Zion National Park

The climate is arid and the hardy vegetation sparse allowing the incredible geological formations to take centre stage. Zion is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. Rock layers have been uplifted, tilted and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colourful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.  Thanks here to all this geologic info has to go to the maps and info brochures we got at Zion but how’s this for a mind flip…the bottom layer of rock at Bryce is the top layer at Zion and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer of Bryce!

All this geologic magic happens through the combination of 4 distinct processes; Sedimentation , Lithification, Uplift and Erosion.  Sedimentation (depositing of sand, mud & gravel) and Lithification (transforming these deposits into stone) create the colourful layers of limestone, mudstone and sandstone that appear in the formations.

Chipmunks everywhere
Chipmunks everywhere

Uplift -a slow, vertical hoisting of the earth’s crust raised Zions elevation from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level,a process happening even today. Erosion  is also obviously an ongoing process and the Virginia River is still excavating and widening a slot canyon informed through part of these mountain ranges. Flash floods and landslides also change the character of the canyon when they occur. The most recent landslide was in 1995, the last flash flood in 1998.

Hidden Canyon
Hidden Canyon

More than ever, these experiences in Colorado, Aspen and Springdale, Utah and the information I learnt while hiking here have underscored for me how our beautiful planet, Earth is a living, growing organism in its own right. We are but little parasites existing on her surface.

Observation Point - Zion National Park, Utah
Observation Point – Zion National Park, Utah

Spring and Fall are the best times for hiking in this area, with Summer temperatures hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit/ 37 degrees celsius in Summer and ice and snow in Winter making higher trails possible only with skis, crampons and  snow shoes. So Pierre and I had chosen a good time for hiking arriving in early Fall. And hike we did leaving our lodgings before 10 each morning to catch the free buses up to the Zion National Park.  We climbed to Observation Point an 8 mile round trip the first day. Its a steep start which levels out a bit until a VERY steep finish leads one to a magnificent view. We spent awhile at the top (6508 feet) while chimpmunks seemed to pop up everywhere ever hopeful for a few dropped crumbs (although of course one must not feed the animals – nonetheless appears the animals did not get the memo and view us as potential vending machines), then we walked and ran most of the way down before taking a detour to see Hidden Canyon which was truly beautiful with ferns hanging off the rocks and trees growing in it’s shade. Day two was devoted to the River Walk – you can walk along the river until you no longer can which point you have a choice turn back or do the Narrows which means climbing into and walking along the river bed.  I was a bit concerned it was going to be cold but once my feet were numb it was all good…no seriously it wasn’t all that cold..although as one proceeds further along the river the the narrower it gets and eventually after about 9km we turned back.

Hike the Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah
Hike the Narrows – Zion National Park, Utah

We would literally spend each day hiking until 3/4pm, then head back to town, throw our gear into the laundry, jump in the pool then the jacuzzi, grab a beer then wander down to one of the restaurants for dinner.  There are plenty of places to choose from and pretty much all can cater for vegetarians  (we ate quite a bit at the Bit and Spur) although strict vegans nay prefer to sticky to the Thai restaurant- Thai Sappa or Cafe Soleil. We ate at the latter and it was a delicious meal.

That Wednesday we reluctantly bid Springdale goodbye and started the drive to Las Vegas a little uncertain of what we would find after the devastating attack by Stephen Paddock on people attending a concert.

Las Vegas
Las Vegas

My feelings about Vegas have always been complicated. On the one hand I dislike tons of people, gaudy decor and shopping centre and the Vegas Strip is pretty much nothing but gaudy, busy and full a shops…on the other hand the hotels are (as is everything in Vegas) OTT.  You can stay in a budget place and still be treated like a movie star – of course this is part of their marketing plan 101.  If you feel rich and famous you’re more likely to spend as though you are!  More marketing 101 – music plays EVERYWHERE…all along the strip, in the stores, in the hotels – the only place you can shut it out is when you close your hotel door.  The hotels all have fabulous pools too – yes, I love their hotels!  And shows, yes Broadway has good shows (and some not so good) and a sense of history and romance, but no one does it on the scale that Vegas does – here whole theatre’s are created specifically for certain shows and no expense is spared.  Yet given my preference for exploring a city and watching it’s people at work and play trying to gain a sense of it’s pace and rhythm, it seems so wrong to go to a place where my perfect time is to lounge by the pool leaving the hotel only to go to a show.

2 Bedroom Suite @ Aria
2 Bedroom Suite @ Aria

So, how did this gambling and party mecca even come to exist I wonder as we drive through the dry flat lands of Nevada. Nevada is the driest state in the US mostly made up of desert and semi-arid regions…Rather than developing to a specific plan it was more a confluence of factors that created the Las Vegas we know today. It was literally an oasis in the desert.  The fact that there was a natural oasis, the Big Springs, or Las Vegas Springs  encouraged trading parties traveling the Old Spanish Trail from New Mexico to Los Angeles to use it as a handy place to stop for travelers, traders and the Mormons who came to settle in the West.  In fact Los Vegas means “grassy meadows” or ‘fertile plains” in Spanish and was named such by Antonio Armijo, a Mexican trader from Santa Fe leading a party along The Spanish trail in 1829.

1864 Nevada becomes 36th state in the union. 1911 City of Las Vegas is incorporated and liberal laws allow for ‘quickie’ divorces (and marriages). 1929 work starts on Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) and with that an influx of workers and services to cater to them.

The Aria, Vegas
The Aria, Vegas

While the City was founded by ranchers and railroad workers but soon discovered that it’s casino’s had become it’s acceptance of Old West-style freedoms —gambling and prostitution—which provided a perfect home for East Coast organized crime. Beginning in the 1940s, money from drugs and racketeering built casinos and was laundered within them.  Today, the old style gangsters are replaced by the corporate conglomerates though of course when it comes to corporates I’m not convinced they’re just another version of the gangsters.   So, that was a highly edited version of Las Vegas’s history – for more accuracy I thought these were pretty cool sites

The Aria, Vegas
The Aria, Vegas

This visit seemed more complicated even than normal given that some person had seen fit to murder 59 people – treating the whole affair like a combination of a gambling calculation and a Role Player Video game. Driving past the Mandalay Bay, now emptied and cordoned off.  The two windows he broke with a hammer looking out like blind eyes.  Across the way people have left flowers and wreaths for those killed.  While the casino’s and strips may be the attraction for many – it also provides jobs for at least 30% of the 618 056 (2016 consensus) residents. Which makes it both a big but also very small town.  Nearly everyone who lives in Vegas and works the strip was affected – our cab driver’s daughter is going to her college graduation soon and her boyfriends mother was shot and killed, the cab driver recalls seeing a couple he’d dropped at the concert on the news – killed in each others arms. The response from the local community (and no doubt visitors) was overwhelming – by the time I got there 4 days later they had had enough blood donors that they would need no more for a couple of weeks.  In addition restaurants and individuals were taking sandwiches to those queueing to donate and to the first responders. Which goes to show beneath the garish glitz and flashy lights Vegas is also home to people of real substance.

For everyone to cancel going to Vegas now would be to inflict more harm and help not at all so I feel oddly compelled to open my heart to Las Vegas.  Granted Vegas has made it particularly easy now that dispensaries are legal and given that my hubby had used points to upgrade us to a suite.  Now given that Vegas is OTT, a suite that would be grand elsewhere is on a whole different level here – 2 bedrooms with ensuite and dressing room, a guest loo, dining room, kitchen and lounge.  The bathroom has a huge bath with jacuzzi options, a TV, a shower with steamer function and a loo with a control panel next to it that has me in paroxyms of laughter – so a bidet is one thing but an electronic bidet that does ‘back’ or ‘front’ options, dries and can warm the temperature of bidet water and / or toilet seat ….too freaking much!  This, I think to myself is why rich and famous people lose touch with reality, this is why they think the world exists to serve them and keep their arses comfortable. And this hypothesis helps me understand the evolution of the Trumps and Kardashiens – mind you – the suite was so freaking lavish I felt like a Kardashien just with a smaller butt and less plastic in my body.

It has to be said that Vegas can be fun with a friend and I always have fun with my hubby! I’m not certain if it’s because we have more cash this time or if Vegas (like a lot of the rest of the world is evolving) but we find so many great places to eat – Fellow Vegetarians – I can highly recommend Blossom.  It’s not necessarily vegetarian but there are plenty of options, at first I thought not, just the sides but let me tell you those sides are in and of themselves delicious meals and I ate the most superb mushroom soup there.  Further off the strip is another absolutely superb vegan spot Vegenation- take your appetite!

We went to see the Cirque de Soleil show LOVE based on the Beatles and their music and it was totally awesome – possibly less death defying acrobatics than say KA but nonetheless enough perilous appearing gymnastics to keep us satisfied but also lots of amazing effects at one point – I think it was ” a day in the life” – they pull these huge bedsheets from a bed centre stage which stage hands then pull over the heads of ourselves and others sitting in the lower benches and then project lights through which gave it (no doubt intended) a rather trippy feeling.

So yeah – if it’s your first time to the States, with limited time and you want to get a feel for it perhaps skip Vegas but if you have the time and a little bit of money – go to Vegas, see a show and admire the lights as I did from the 52nd storey of a luxury suite – the best way in my opinion to experience the Strip .




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