The new year has proven way busier already than anticipated and I’m just now finally having a chance to review the road trip we took to close out 2017. Better late than never I say as it was too spectacular not to share. This time of year is starting to become an annual voyage into America’s high desert. Last year we explored Northern Arizona and this year we plunged into the National and State parks of southern Utah. We decided to drive instead of fly to a starting point this year and chose Vegas as our midway point to help break up the car time. I’m a huge fan of Vegas…but probably not for the same reasons as most. I do not like gambling, overpriced food and drinks and loud smoky rooms. This is why we generally stay away from the strip. What else is there to do in Vegas then? Much I say! The art scene is deeper than you would expect and there is plenty of off-strip delicious food and charming institutions to enjoy.
On our way in, we stopped at the quite popular Seven Magic Mountains installation by Ugo Rondinone. If I had my druthers, we would have stopped at a different time of day because this over Instagrammed installation is downright packed in the middle of the day. Our tight schedule unfortunately wouldn’t allow it so I settled for our afternoon pass-by. Even though it was pretty busy, it didn’t take away from enjoying the installation. Colorful and of impressive scale, it has just the right balance of blend and contrast with its desert surroundings. We managed to get some great photos despite having to dodge the other oblivious onlookers.
We headed into town and unfortunately we were staying on-strip for our first night due to the proximity to the second art installation I had planned to see. I definitely did not like our hotel, but the experience we had the next morning made it all worth it. I had read about a “secret” art installation hidden in the Shops at Crystals. James Turrell’s Akhob was commissioned by Louis Vuitton and set underneath their store on the strip. Unfortunately this is not for the spur of moment trip to Vegas, as I had to make a reservation about 3 months in advance. You are greeted by the artist’s reps and ushered by elevator beneath the store. You enter a small dark space where they orient you before taking you up the hall to the installation entry point. Its an immediate contrast with a pure white waiting room with dark stairs leading up into the main space. Ascending the temple like stairs into the round opening of the first room was surreal. There are 3 rooms in succession filled with bright light on a slow color changing flow. The third cannot be accessed as its a 6′ drop…or so I’m told as you cannot tell where the room really begins or ends. Turrell’s installations are primarily concerned with light and space and are meant to play with your eyes. It felt like floating in a never ending tunnel. it was a pretty magical space. Photos were not allowed, but I posted a photo below from Motherboard who reviewed the space. If you are planning a Vegas trip far enough in advance to reserve a time to experience this, I highly recommend it.
We hit the road immediately after this experience to head to Zion National park. The drive alone was gorgeous, but as soon as you see that first peak you definitely know where you are. Its name makes reference to the holy mountain in Jerusalem, and I certainly feel God’s presence in a place like this. We enjoyed the small local town the evening we arrived but got up very early and hiked up to the main valley overlook. What a spectacular view!! It was definitely one of those spots that didn’t seem real…as if you were placed in front of a giant painting. I wish I would have booked 2 nights in Zion as it turned out to be my favorite stop on our trek. The crisp dry air and rainbow rock temples are what dreams are made of. I will definitely be back to this park.
Our final stop would be Bryce Canyon National Park, but I decided to make a day trip detour on our way at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State park. I am enchanted by dunes and these pink natural wonders were too good to resist. We grabbed some lunch and took the long straight road down a narrowing valley that lead us to an observation area overlooking the unique sand formations of the park. I was mesmerized and I scarfed my sandwich quickly to head out to go romping through sand. The larger dunes didn’t seem as far as they were but we managed to reach the closest ones and tromped all over. We had a blast, but after wading through deep pink sand in hiking boots with a toddler for a couple hours, we were sandy and spent.
Bryce Canyon was only a short distance from the dunes so we arrived by early afternoon. We chose to stay in a cabin house on the far end of the park rather than right by the main entry to the canyon. Cabin is a loose term…these were houses with renovated kitchens, a fireplace and a patio hot tub overlooking the sprawling desert. I was ready to call it a night after our 2 previous hikes that day and get straight to hot-tubbing, but we had heard that sunset was the best time to view the canyon from the rim trail so I was coerced to drag myself back out for more hiking. I ended up glad that we did because what a sight it was. As the sun went down we were able to experience all the best colors of the canyon and surrounding horizon. The hoodoo formations are so very unique and for all of this canyon’s comparison to the grand canyon, how can you really adequately compare beauty against beauty or art against art.
We did a little more hiking before our return to Vegas, but started back early through the red rock landscape for our long haul back. We managed to squeeze in a couple more small intrigues before returning home. That night we checked out the Downtown Container Park in the Vegas Arts District near Fremont for some eats and strolled the scene to check out some of the great murals leftover by the Life is Beautiful festival. There are some gorgeous big name muralist works around there. My favorite was this Felipe Pantone mural that is 3D and has solar powered light up elements.
Full of heart but very tired, we were ready to get back to San Diego, but not before a couple more peeks at art installations and quick stop at the Lion Habitat Ranch. I’m quite the animal lover, and when I heard there is a lion rescue in the desert with the fun addition of a famous painting giraffe you could also pay extra to feed, I couldn’t resist. It was a quaint set-up with an impressive amount of lions of all ages saved from a defunct casino. They do good work and their lions are very happy. The giraffe was a sweet juvenile with a rambunctious temperament. Getting to feed and pet him was such a rare treat.
All-in-all it was a magical 5 days full of wondrous of sites both man-made and God-made. Can’t wait for our next adventure!