George’s Birthday Adventure: The Utah Chronicles

So after escaping Death Valley remarkably intact, Camp Granola set off to Utah. We’re used to traveling off-season…one of the many perks of roadschooling. I had a slightly rude awakening however, realizing a bit late that it would be Spring Break for much of the country by the time we reached Utah. As Scooby would say…”R’uh R’oh!”

A quick review (i.e mad scrambling) of campsites revealed that we were indeed up a creek. With a quick last minute reservation, I managed to land a campsite at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab instead of one of the mega-parks like Zion. No biggie, I’m quite a fan of state parks since they tend to have a few more amenities than National Parks. Showers are a wonderful luxury aren’t they?

The bizarre mixture of sand, mountains, conifers, and desert plants at Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a feast for the eyes.

A Mad Dash to Utah…

Anyway, at this point of George’s Birthday Adventure, we were trying to enjoy a few not-so-hectic days after the E.T. Highway/Vegas/Death Valley whirlwind. But with only a few days left and Utah ripe for the picking with places to explore, what’s a curious adventurer to do?

George reduced to head and boots in the soft sand of Coral Pink.

Well, the first step is simply to get there so we spent most of the day driving to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, then set up camp. In this case, with no official tent pad, we had some leeway where to pitch so we chose a spot as far away from the insanely noisy generator of our neighbors. Mind you, they had conveniently placed it as far away from their RV as they could and still have it technically in their site. But that’s a rant for another day…

In any case, we were treated to what was probably the easiest staking job in Camp Granola history since we were pitching on gloriously soft sand. After the previous night’s tent-pitching nightmare, it was a very welcome and somewhat surreal.

The breezes on the dunes even kept His Beagleness cool…and his ears aloft.

This is what I’m officially dubbing “Camping Whiplash.” Cold, hard Death Valley to the soothing softness of Coral Pink? Camping Whiplash I tell you. (And I wish I could bottle the feeling of sleeping on that sand…all sorts of groovy goodness.)

As you can imagine after a day of driving and setting up camp, we had little time remaining to do anything before dinner. That’s always a great time to take the opportunity to just enjoy the campground and hopefully achieve that “non-hecticness” I mentioned. In this time, George discovered the joys of identifying trees with the iPad, thanks to the Audubon app. Fred was quite content to venture out and get the lay of the land, no doubt crafting a fabulous internal story as he glided about in his ever-present black cloak. For me, it was just a breather to slow down and enjoy being outside with no agenda and to watch the boys enjoy being outside without an agenda.

You’ve got two days, what do you do?

First, clearly we needed to explore the park we were visiting. Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a more of an ATV playground than a hiker’s paradise, but even so it ended up being one of the boys’ favorite places in terms of sheer play value. They created their own civilizations for hours on the dunes because, even though is was quite sunny, the crisp temperatures in early April made for perfect all-day sand-play conditions. No need for complicated plans when you’re here…just park the kids in the giant sand box and let them get their fill.

Cozy soft sand for a bed at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes campground.

That pretty sand they were playing in? That comes courtesy the eroding Navajo sandstone that’s prominent throughout the American southwest and a fabulous confluence of factors including gaps in the mountains and the Venturi effect. As you can see from the images, the sand is a striking coral color. In spite of their beauty, the park actually exists in large part to protect the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle that lives nowhere else. We did manage to get a glimpse of the little bugger but I never got a shot so you’ll have to find out more about them here.

One of the really fun things about camping at Coral Pink was seeing tracks in the sand around your tent in the morning. Everything from bugs to deer seem to move through the campground and seeing the evidence is a bit of a rush. Be sure to tiptoe around the um…”brown jelly beans” many of them leave behind! Nature in all it’s glory my friends.

Next up…

Having spent one day cavorting in the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, we had one remaining day to spend in Utah and a lot of places to choose from. Let’s face it, Utah is overflowing with amazing parks but I had my sights set on Zion. Even though I knew it would be just a tease to go for one day to a park you could reasonably spend weeks exploring, I wanted to at least take a peek.

The North Fork Virgin River is a fabulous playground.

Given the epic-ness of National Parks in Utah, you can imagine that Spring Break was pretty busy there. In fact, it was a zoo. With His Beagleness in tow, we had to stick to the roads and the one trail he was allowed to stretch his paws on. Of course, this means we were in the thick of the zoo since the only dog-friendly trail is the Pa’rus Trail near the Visitor Center.

It was quite a nice little walk with access to a stream to frolic in. And frolic they did, my Fred and George. Even Mr. Dobby got his paws wet, an activity he doesn’t undertake readily. Skipping stones and bounding through the stream, buoyed by the adrenaline rush that comes with ice-cold water on naked feet, Fred and George played happily for quite some time. Another simple day of exploration, Fred and George style.

Dabbling in Kanab…

So we’re on our last night of camping and feeling free and spontaneous. We decided to poke around Kanab with our remaining hours, finding a dog-friendly restaurant with a patio, Denny’s Wigwam.

Now, I don’t normally go for kitschy…maybe I was feeling punchy as our trip was winding down because we found it quite entertaining. It was cowboy-themed of course, with fake western storefronts setting the stage around the restaurant. It was a quite fitting final hurrah before we said farewell to the great American west for the more humid climates of the east.

The take-away…

Wet fun even calms Mr. Tween.
  • Coral Pink was surprisingly fun for the kids and was a great alternative to camping at the the mega-parks. For one, they have showers. Two, tent-camping on the sand was all sorts of groovy. For some basic information, here’s a link to the park brochure.
  • Zion is simply stunning, as I knew it would be. I am going back without the dog…and off-season. Even if you’re not into backcountry hiking, the lovely North Fork Virgin River along the Pa’rus trail is a wonderland of exploration opportunity for kids and adults alike.
  • Kanab is a nice little town that’s big enough to grab some good food and resupply if needed. If you’d like a dose of cowboy kitsch, give a visit to Denny’s Wigwam.
This big metal beauty stands guard at the entrance to Denny’s Wigwam.
Geography George never tires of the license plate game, so imagine his delight at the display of plates from all fifty states.
Some of the kitsch I mentioned…how about “Paul Bunyan’s” chair?

And now for your moment of green…

Ok, so it’s not Zion backcountry, but the Pa’rus Trail is lovely and a nice way to spend a day there.