I took my first family trip since the Covid epidemic. In a repeat of three years ago, we went to Las Vegas, because just like three years ago, I won a weekend trip to Las Vegas from a sweepstakes. We tacked on some extra days to see some spots in Utah and Arizona as well. It was a great trip, and this post has the highlights.
Zion National Park
Before doing anything in the Sin City, we took a quick road trip into Utah and Arizona. The first spot we visited was Zion National Park in southern Utah. Known for its pink, red and cream colored sandstone cliffs, Zion National Park is a very popular national Park. We showed up at the main entrance a bit after 9 AM, and the parking lot inside the park was already full, so we had to pay for parking in the town of Springdale and walk into the park.
During the busy season, visitors have to take the shuttle bus to see the main attractions. The two most famous trails at Zion are Angels Landing and the Narrows. We did neither of them since it wasn’t warm enough for us to consider walking in the water for the Narrows, and asking my parents to climb to Angels Landing is probably too much. We did take take the paved Riverside Walk to the entrance of the Narrows and also did another short hike to the Lower Emerald Pool.
We also visited the Kolob Canyons, which is located at different part of Zion National Park. This entrance wasn’t nearly as busy as the main entrance. It was interesting that the mountains near the freeway and park entrance looked like normal mountains, but as soon as you drive into the park, the surroundings turn into that characteristic pink color of Zion. We drove to the end of the scenic drive and hiked to the overlook at the top.
I would definitely visit Zion again in the future. The park has a distinct scenery, and I still have to hike the two famous trails.
Horseshoe Bend & Glen Canyon Dam
We also drove to Page, Arizona to visit a few places in the area. The first place was Horseshoe Bend, which is a bend and cliff in the Colorado River. It’s a popular location to get a cool wide angle photo. Visitors can park in the city’s parking lot (cost $10) and take a short trail to see the bend. The trail is short, but there is no cover from the sun other than a few covered bench/rest areas on the trail. At the end of the trail, there is an area with railings, but the more adventurous folks can climb some of the rocks nearby get photos without a fence. You could fall off the cliff though, so it’s good to watch our steps.
A bit up the river is the Glen Canyon Dam hydro generating station. We went to a viewpoint a little bit down the river from the dam to get a good look. It’s a tall hydro dam that is holding back a lot of water. The generating station is open for tours on some days of the week, but we were there when there weren’t any tours, so had to settle for looking at the dam from afar.
The most famous tourist attraction near Page is probably Antelope Canyon. There is actually an Upper Antelope Canyon and a Lower Antelope Canyon. The Upper is the more well known of the two and you see a lot of cool photos online from within these narrow slot canyons. Both Antelope Canyons are located within the Navajo Nation, so you can only visit by purchasing tours from authorized operators. The tour prices for Upper Antelope Canyon is more than $100 per person, so definitely not a cheap activity.
From the parking lot, we rode in the seats installed in the bed of a a pickup truck to the entrance of the canyon. Other tour operators had seats mounted on jeep, while others ferried their customers in full-size SUVs. It was 10 minute ride to the entrance, and was pretty bumpy at spots since it was a sandy road rather than a paved road. After arriving at the entrance, the guides usher though each tour group through the slot canyon. The canyon is about a quarter of mile long, but takes a while to get through since everybody is taking lots of photos. Once we passed though the canyon, we take a path up and over to the top back to where the trucks are parked.
To be honest, Antelope Canyon looks better in the photos than in real life. In real life, it was dark in the canyon even when it was sunny outside, but with the proper photography equipment (or night sight on modern smartphone cameras) you can get the bright orange colors on the sandstone walls. The place probably looks better during noon time when the sun is directly overhead, but that is the “prime time” tour which costs even more. It was also windy that day, which meant that sand rained down from the top from time to time. I ended up with a bit of sand in my hair and on my jacket.
I have mixed feelings about visiting Upper Antelope Canyon. It is unique looking and worth visiting if you’ve never been there, but it doesn’t look as good as the photos, and the tours are expensive. Also when we visited, the Navajo Nation still had a mask mandate, which meant visitors had to wear a mask at all time other than to drink water. You can’t even take your mask off for photos. So for those who really want a nice photo of themselves inside Antelope Canyon, you are better off waiting until the mask mandate is lifted in that area. If I go back there again I would go check out Lower Antelope Canyon.
Valley of Fire State Park
We also did some outdoors activities in Nevada. Located an hour drive outside of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park is known for its distinctive and mostly red sandstone landscape. It’s another one of those fascinating geological features where the landscape is so different from its surroundings. We stopped by a few spots within the park, but most of our time was spent doing the Fire Wave and Seven Wonders loop hike. The Fire Wave is an area with the wave pattern of different colors on the rocks. The Seven Wonders Trail took us through some pink and pastel canyon, some of which are pretty narrow. Definitely some very memorable landscapes. The weather was warm but not hot, which made the hike do-able. I wouldn’t want to do this hike if it was any hotter since there is not much shade to hide under.
It’s the third time we’ve visited the Sin City. Even though the Covid is still around, the crowds at Vegas are as big as ever. Plenty of people everywhere, and most people don’t bother with face masks. For this trip, we stayed at Harrah’s. Harrah’s is definitely nowhere as luxurious as the Palazzo where we stayed during our last Vegas trip, but it’s conveniently located on the Strip and the rooms are clean.
We did our rounds walking the Strip and checking out the big casino resorts and their shopping centers. We went into a couple of places like the Wynn and the Paris that we haven’t checked out before. The casino resorts have definitely gotten bigger and more luxurious over time. As for activities we saw the free Bellagio fountain show as always, but this time we also saw the Mirage’s free volcano eruption show which involves both fire and water. We are not really gamblers, so our gambling was limited to donating a few bucks to the slot machines.
Most of the money was spent on show tickets. The popular shows in Vegas are getting expensive, and we paid more than$100 per person per show. We saw the David Copperfield magic show, which was alright. They made a few large objects appear out of nowhere and did some of the predict the future tricks. It was quite the walk to get to the MGM Grand which was near the southern end of the Strip. We also saw O by Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio. O was pretty spectacular, with the stage changing between a pool and solid ground, and some daring tricks like diving from the top of the theater into the pool. The production value, music were top notch.
Other than the Strip, we also visited Las Vegas’ actual downtown, aka the Fremont Street Experience. It’s like a smaller version of the strip where they have a few blocks lined by some smaller casinos. The area is pedestrians-only, and they have a giant LED display serving as a roof to the street. We also visited Las Vegas’ Chinatown a few times for food. Vegas’ Chinatown is along Spring Mountain Rd west of the I-15. It’s a couple of strip malls that have Asian restaurants and businesses, rather than like the old and beat-up looking Chinatowns in New York or even Seattle. Food on the Strip (other than fast food) is not cheap, and so we thought it was a better idea to take the short drive to Chinatown. The restaurants we tried were pretty decent there. We didn’t go to any casino buffets (due to the price inflation), but we did stuff ourselves at an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ in Chinatown.
It was another fun family trip. It’s always good to travel and make good memories with family. Just like my previous trip to Las Vegas, this Vegas trip was paid for in part by winning a sweepstakes. I actually won this trip in late 2019 and was going to travel in April 2020, but of course everything got shut down because of Covid. After two years I am glad to finally redeem my prize. At this point, I’ve gotten back home and pretty tired because of the travel. Thanks for reading.