If you ever want a private, guided family canyoneering hike book with Red Desert Adventures in Springdale, Utah!

I researched many places that offered slot canyon tours in Zion National Park. Red Desert Adventures offered all that we wanted: canyoneering, private, family oriented, and kid friendly! I called and asked a few questions and booked a half day trip over the phone (after stalking Trip Advisor and Yelp.) We were to meet our guide in front of Zion Visitor’s Center with our daypacks and water. We packed a few snacks, tobaggons, and gloves, and layered our clothing. We all had thermals, hiking pants, sweatshirt and a jacket.

Lambs Knoll

We met our guide, Matt, and realized early that we really liked him. He drove us up to the backside of Zion on Kolob Terrace Road to Lambs Knoll Climbing Site. It was about a 35 minute drive. The temperature had dropped since we were up higher but the sun was out and the day turned out to be a good day to rappel for the first time.

Matt hooked us up with helmets and harnesses because – safety first!

We immediately began climbing up the boulders to our first rappelling site. Carter, of course, wanted to go first. He is constantly asking us to stop on the side of the road so he can climb various hills, rocks, boulders, and mountains. We watched as Matt went through a crash course in safety and ropes. I do not remember what he said except “This is your rope. Don’t let go.” I watched as everyone went down. I am DEATHLY afraid of heights so I did NOT look down. In the past I have looked down and either get dizzy or everything starts to go black. I figured that wouldn’t be good so I trusted Matt and this tiny rope. I turned, leaned back, and inched my way down. It took me several minutes as my family laughed and snickered at me. Then Matt hopped down the side of the mountain in three quick jumps. I was in awe.

The next drop was longer. Everyone, including, myself, was a little quicker. Chris bounces down quickly. Ryan and Carter were swift and Haley and I inched our way down again. At this point we had to squeeze through a crack. I couldn’t figure out how to hold my pack, squeeze through a tiny slit in the mountain, and shimmy down the mountain wall so Matt said he would hold my pack. I still never looked down. Matt came down last with a couple of short bounces with my pack AND Haley’s pack, too. In my mind, that’s what I looked like but my family reassured me that I did not.

We were ready to head back to the van when Matt informed us that we were not done! We climbed up further and this time our descent was more slanted and the view more beautiful. We finished the adventure with a final cliff climb and descent. Matt said it was 120 foot drop. This time I tried to jump like the guys did and only ended up slamming into the rock and bruising my knee pretty bad. But I did beat Haley down. We though Ryan would hate canyoneering but he loved it. We thought Haley would love it but she never wants to do it again!

We hope to visit Matt again on our next trip to Zion and we highly recommend Red Desert Adventures! While we were at Lambs Knoll we only saw one other family. They were doing shorter walls as the kids were younger. RDA also offers rock climbing, and hiking. The hike at Lambs Knoll was pretty easy but uphill and you do not really break a sweat. The winter air was brisk and it was cool at times but the views were breathtaking and Our guide knowledgeable, and always had our safety in mind. And every time I was about to descend I made Matt check my rope to make sure I was holding it correctly and he never got mad or irritated. Good job, Matt!

Ready to go canyoneering again and never look down or back until my feet hit the red dirt.

Cost: $105 each

Rating:

Chris 10

Janet 10

Ryan 10

Haley 4

Carter 15

Experience needed: none

Tools: provided

In Winter – Bring: gloves, toboggan, backpack with water, light snacks for kids that eat every hour, Sweatshirt, light jacket, hiking boots, long pants, chapstick, thermals

Time: we went at 12; the warmest part of the day as the high was 40 degrees. We ate a good lunch beforehand. In summer I’d go early.

Duration: approximately 4 hours

Bathroom: in parking lot

If you ever have the chance, go canyoneering!

J

Utah is such a pretty state. Every time we drive through Page to Zion I cannot stop watching the scenery.

High above Page

Our checkin at Zion Lodge wasn’t until later in the day so we decided to stop by the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. We did not know they weren’t renting sand sleds so we did not get to participate in sledding. Instead we walked to the top of the tallest sand dune. The wind gusts were at 40 mph and it was below freezing. Needless to say we walked up and walked down. Well, I walked. The other four chose to run, roll, and fall down the dune. Several people had rented dune buggies. By this time our fingers and toes were frozen and it had begun to snow. Ryan had involuntarily rolled down the dune and Carter had face planted into the sand. Haley was covered head to toe in sand.

It was a neat stop entering Zion from the east and killed some time until we could check in.

J

Skip the little things so you can do the big things.

Earlier this year we talked about going back to Zion National Park. The whole family rated this park as one of the top places we have been to. We decided to try a fall/winter trip to cut down on the number of people that would be visiting the park. We had signed up to receive emails from the park lodge and waited until the lodge had a sale on rooms. (By the way, there’s a sale now on lodge rooms for a December or January visit.) We booked a three night stay inside the park. We started saving our Exxon points on gas for this trip and by the time we left we had enough points for 4 tanks of FREE gas.

The drive from Mississippi to Utah is a twenty-four hour trek. The kids do not mind because they watch Netflix, Prime, YouTube, or Disney+. Chris and I don’t mind the drive because we enjoy the scenery and decided to listen to the Eragon books on Audible. (Plus Chris does most of the driving.) We stop periodically to get out of the car, too.

We have signed up for all hotel reward points and use Expedia points as well. The points add up! We check Expedia against hotel websites and get the better deal. We have had the best luck with Hilton and Best Western and Expedia rewards. If you don’t mind doing the research, patiently waiting, and comparing rates you can really save money. I do this while Chris drives.

We already had our hikes in mind we wanted to do from our last trip to Zion and had all the gear we needed. Haley had to buy new hiking shoes because she had outgrown her others and we needed a couple sets of thermal/wool long johns. Everyone needed warm gloves. Chris ended up buying a smaller cooler for this trip. (Last Easter weekend someone pulled out in front of us and we totaled our Nissan Quest – my baby! We ended up buying a used Nissan Pathfinder which does not have as much room as our Quest did. Therefore, we contemplated buying a cargo carrier for the top of the Pathfinder but after much consideration and reviews went with a smaller cooler and less luggage to save money.)

So we saved and skipped the little things so we could add up to do the big things.

Of course, we stopped for our PB&J lunches. The kids wanted deli meats but with the smaller cooler we really didn’t have room for the condiments, cheese and meats. We enjoyed watching this guy at the travel center in Oklahoma.

The first day we got up at 3am and drove for 15 hours. I think that’s the longest we have ever driven in one day and we do not ever want to do it again.

Everyone wanted to eat at The Big Texan again. Then we hit the road to make it across the state line to New Mexico. This La Quinta was super nice. Santa Rosa is home to the Blue Hole. The kids said they did not mind jumping in again even though it was super cold outside. I vetoed their attempt.

We finally made it to Arizona. I booked a unique stay on Airbnb for the kids. Chris and I LOVE looking at the stars. In Mississippi there are too many lights and you can’t see ALL the stars. I found a hogan that was warmed by a wood burning stove. The owners were very accommodating. It is very hard to find sleeping arrangements for five people. The owners had an extra cot they put in the hogan for us. The land is located south of Page, AZ and no lights taint the sky. At night, you could see ALL the billions of stars. If you ever have a chance to see the stars on a clear night in the desert. DO IT!

The owners were super nice people. Their land was a part of Navajo land as the owner was a descendent. She told us a very sweet story about her grandmother and how the particular hogan we were staying in was where she lived for a few years as a small child. The hogan eventually became a place for ceremonies and celebrations. They had updated the hogan but the original frame was underneath.

We had no running water here. The owners had Navajo Tacos (our favorite!) delivered to us for supper and in the morning we had fresh fruit and muffins. There was a port-a-potty (very clean) available and an outdoor fire pit. We opted to lay outside for just a bit to see the stars until we were so cold and could not take it anymore. The kids said this was their second favorite house we had ever rented (the most favorite being the house we rented in Crescent City.) Chris got up about every two hours to put wood in the stove. We all had our own twin bed and they were so cozy! The morning after we took a small hike up the hill to overlook Lake Powell and Page, AZ. Then we packed up making the last leg of our journey to Zion.

We were only ten miles from Horseshoe Bend so we stopped. Here you just pay $10 a car and walk maybe a half mile to the overlook. There’s a large climbing rock to the right. I tend to be heavily afraid of heights and think the worst is going to happen so Carter and I spend most of our time near the huge rock allowing Carter to hone his climbing skills.

I was amazed at how popular this site was in November. You can see how many people were walking around the overlook! It’s even busier in summer! Our family absolutely loves Page. We plan on renting a houseboat one day for a week in the summer. Chris signed up for emails from a local marina so we are waiting on the right summer deal to come along.

I beg Chris all the time to move to Southern Utah. It is so pretty! This is where he promises we can get a retirement home.

Stay tuned for more,

J

When Chris and I thought of Georgia we never thought of beaches. I believe I saw a post on Instagram about the wild horses that live on this island. After some research we decided to try out backcountry camping with the kids over Spring Break. We had most camping gear already but got a Jetboil set from REI for cooking and camping pads for the hard ground.

Cumberland Island has several campgrounds:

Sea Camp: people who like showers and bathrooms and sharing the beach with people who are just there for the day; 18 tent sites

Stafford: This is where we wanted to stay. They have cold showers & bathrooms plus right on the beach. 10 tent sites & 3.5 miles from ferry dock

Hickory Hill: wilderness camping, no amenities, must hike for water and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 5.5 miles from ferry dock

Yankee Paradise: This is where we stayed: wilderness camping, no amenities, must hike for water and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 7.5 miles from ferry dock

Brick hill Bluff: Go here if you love bugs. It is right on the marsh. wilderness camping, no amenities, water is on site and all water must be treated; 4 sites & 10.5 miles from ferry dock

Day One:

We booked our ferry tickets several weeks in advance since we were going during Spring Break. There was roadwork happening right near the dock in St. Mary’s so we opted to park them find our way around. First you have to check in with the National seashore to get your ferry tickets. Then park in overnight parking then walk down to the ferry dock. It was a 45 minute ride to the island. They basically drop you off and you explore, camp, and make it on the next scheduled ferry back to St. Mary’s, GA. Ryan and I took Dramamine beforehand because we tend to get motion sickness. The ride was pretty through the marsh lands.

On the way there we realized we needed bug spray so we opted to buy a small travel size bottle from the ferry man for $6. It was worth it as we used every bit. Chris was worried our 9 year old bug cream from 2010 wouldn’t work. You will definitely need some bug spray.

Once we arrived at the island we checked in with a ranger who handed us a map and sent us on our way. We used the toilet for the last time and filled up our bladders to the brim with potable water.

Chris is our packer. He thrives on repacking to perfection. He’s also in charge of finding restaurants. I’m the planner, scheduler, kids’ clothes getter, hotel finder, “things to do” researcher and in charge of food. Chris makes sure we have all of our things packed precisely and according to what each person could hold.

Most people can carry 20% of their body weight but we met a skinny kid of no more than 160 lbs and he was carrying 80 lbs. Chris carries more so the rest of us don’t have to (so nice!)

Chris: 46 pound pack: shovel, food, cooking supplies, 2 pair clothes, sleeping bag & pad, lights, water filtration first aid kit, system, collapsable 5 gal water jug, various other camping supplies, Chacos

Janet: 25-30 pound pack: 2 pair of clothes, coffee, lots of food, medicine, book, pillow, light, hammock, sleeping pad, rain jackets, toiletries, battery powered fan, Tevas

Ryan: 37 pound pack: pillow, 5 person tent & stakes, food, batteries, clothes, sleeping pad, hammock, blanket, Chacos

Haley: 14-16 pound pack: pillow, sleeping bag and mat, hammock, games, silverware, food, 2 days of clothes, Chacos, Norwex rags/towels

Carter: 10 pounds: sleeping bag, clothes, lights, Swiss Army knife, food, hammock, Tevas

Side note: Fox Outfitters is where we got our hammocks. If you buy one you get two free!!

Chris & Ryan ended up carrying Carter’s pack 90% of the time. Haley and I took turns carrying a tarp because it was supposed to be stormy the first night then we used it to sit on. We also had bio wipes, toilet paper, and body wipes. If you go camping and do not have access to a shower I highly recommend getting some Norwex rags and towels. We heated water and used the body cloths each night. No no soap needed. (My friend Jenna sells them. I promise it works. I haven’t used soap in months except when I want to use my girly smelling stuff and when we finally got off the island.) We also ordered a couple of microfiber quick dry towels from Amazon. The dirt we wiped off of our feet before getting in the tent and sand from the beach shook right off of them.

We hiked 7.5 miles to our campsite at Yankee Paradise in 4 hours. It was in the low 80s and mid-day so we had to rest a bit and slow down for Carter. Carter found 12 shark teeth on the Main Road and we saw our first feral horses that live on the island.

The last mile was a killer and we were all hungry. We got to our site just as a large group was leaving. A couple had a tent across the way from us but there was complete silence! We set up our tent & hammocks, ate summer sausage & crackers, and then hiked about a mile to the beach.

The beach was total seclusion for miles and miles and our first time to get in the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes are protected but you can carry out shells. As a family we all stepped into the Atlantic Ocean at the same time per Ryan and Haley’s request. At first we were so excited because the waves were huge and we were finding whole sand dollars, and whelk shells. Then we realized they were everywhere and stopped being hoarders about them. Towards the end of the trip we were shrugging our shoulders at them. (You have to realize we are used to the Gulf of Mexico where pieces of sand dollars are fun to find.) The kids swam in the freezing water, Chris walked looking for shells, and I laid on the beach watching them.

We made it back to camp at dusk. I cooked some Tai Pad noodles we found on clearance at Wal-Mart (you just pour boiling water in a bag and let it sit) while Chris and Ryan walked 1/4 mile to the non-potable water and filled up our 5 gallon jug. As soon as they got back the thunder and lightning hit. We scurried to put up the tarp In the dark. We ate in a downpour under the tarp then did our best to help Chris rig up the tarp over the tent. We used body wipes the first night and fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting the tarp.

Day Two:

Chris awoke first and got in a hammock for about 2 hours until the rest of us got up at 9:30 to the sound of a woodpecker. He had my coffee made and we all ate oatmeal except Haley who doesn’t like oatmeal. She ate a Cliff bar instead. We put all of our bladders in a day pack and headed to Plum Orchard (about 1.5 away) for a look around and to fill up with potable water. Plum Orchard was really pretty. We walked around the mansion and filled up our bladders and watched the horses hanging around. The live oak trees with Spanish moss are everywhere. In researching we read about an alligator that lives behind the Plum Orchard mansion and tried to see it but did not have any luck. We used a flushable toilet there and got to wash our hands. It was amazing. Then we headed back to camp for lunch. We had a marvelous meal of Raman, and packed peanut butter tortillas for an afternoon beach snack. Back to the beach we went. We saw a pod of dolphins, pelicans, horseshoe crab, armadillos, squirrel, mosquitos, and deer tracks. The whole time we were there Haley and I wanted to see a horse on the beach. The tide was going out and the storm from the previous night had brought in a lot of shells. The kids played until they ate all the food and we left back for camp. For supper we ate chicken flavored rice & Raman and a clearance raspberry crumb dessert in a bag. We got done before dark this night. Haley and I waited until dark and had our Norwex bath but could do nothing about our salty unwashed hair.

Side note: everything you pack in must be packed out. There are no garbage cans on the island. We brought an XXL ziplock bag for trash, Coleman camping poop bags, and hung it up in a tree. We also had unpacked all of our food and put in an XXL Ziplock bag. No items are for sale on the island so you have to bring everything you may need with you including a “poop” bag, tampons, toilet paper and shovel to bury poop. Fun times.

We had bought a yellow collapsable “thing” we used for washing dishes after each meal. We took turns washing, drying, and rinsing. (Norwex scrubbing sponge!) We played Uno and Spot It and Ryan decided he was going to sleep in his hammock. That last 10 minutes. This night was the worst sleep we all had. I think almost everyone took Tylenol or Ibuprofen: me for my hip, Chris for his neck/head, and Ryan for a jellyfish sting.

Day Three:

We awoke sore and tired. Chris had been up laying in the hammock. Ryan had gotten up at sunrise and went back to sleep in his hammock (below). The couple across the way left and a single backpacker came up and set up his hammock/mosquito net. Chris watched him and decided we should get mosquito nets and forgo the tent next time. We ate breakfast and while Chris was pouring boiling water he spilled it all over his hand. It immediately started swelling and we put aloe Vera and burn cream on our list for next time. He poured cold water on it and we applied pain relieving cream. Ryan asked us trivia questions and we laid around in hammocks. we had an aloe wipe and laid that on his hand too. Chris & Ryan got water again in our jug. We ate lunch and headed to the beach for the last time.

As we headed over the dunes to get to the pass I saw everyone walking back laughing. Chris said there was a naked man on the beach all alone. We stood there for a second then Chris headed over. Naked man began apologizing and put his clothes on. Ryan got a pic of them right after seeing the man:

We walked about a mile or so down the beach hoping to see horses on our last day but never saw a beach horse. We watched the kids play in the ocean waves then walked along the beach looking for more shells and trying to find a beach horse.

We didn’t see anyone except the naked man and two people riding on bikes along the beach. (You can bring your own bike or rent one on the island.) It was relaxing and quiet and miles of beach and ocean all to yourself. Back at camp a single woman had set up and an older couple, both with hammocks, had come up as well.

We got back and ate the last of our food save oatmeal and a Cliff bar (Haley) for the last morning. Chris began packing for the trip out and I fixed 19 PB tortillas for lunch. We actually got in the tent before dark and played Uno. We woke up in the middle of the night to a raccoon trying to get into our things.

Day Four:

The next morning Carter loved tracking the coon’s prints on our stuff. We got ready for the 7.5 mile hike out. The whole way out Ryan kept naming all the food he wanted to eat at Cracker Barrel. We conserved water on the way out because our bladders were almost empty. This time we took what’s called the Parallel Trail instead of the Main Road and made it back to the ferry dock in 3.5 hours. We set our stuff at the ranger station and ate peanut butter tortillas and trail mix for lunch. Plus we drank all the water we wanted and used the toilet!

Haley and I really wanted to see Dungeness Ruins so we left our things at the dock and walked about a 1.5 to the ruins. The backstory to the island is chronicled at the Ice House Museum. A revolutionary war hero’s widow built a 4 story mansion in 1803. The house was abandoned and burned after the Civil War. The Carnegie family bought it and rebuilt the mansion and eventually built several other mansions for family on the island. Now Dungeness is in ruins as are several other buildings but some are still in tact. There were lots of horses there. Plum Orchard, where we filled up our bladders, was one of the houses. There’s also Greyfield which is now an inn For those of you who wouldn’t like tent camping. Freed slaves bought the northern most part of the island where their church remains. One of the Kennedy’s was married there. I really wanted to see it but it was beyond our hiking abilities. You can go on a paid Land and Legacies tour that includes riding in a vehicle and no hiking.

Once we finished touring the ruins and watching horses we boarded the ferry to return to St. Mary’s. The water was a lot choppier and everyone was starving. We ate every single bit of food we brought. We ended up getting a hotel in Kingsland again which happened to be across the street from a Cracker Barrel and we all took HOT showers. The kids went back to the front desk and asked for more shampoo and each used a whole bottle. At Cracker Barrel, the kids all order their own sunrise sampler and devoured it. Ryan was asking for everyone else’s food. There wasn’t a stitch of food left on anyone’s plate. Ryan said it was the best day of his life.

All in all here’s our totals:

$39 hotel in Kingsland using Expedia points I have been saving

$25 gas because we used points from Mobil/Exxon gas for the rest

$27 for 3 nights of camping ($9/night)

$136 ferry boat ride for 5 people

$50 Cracker Barrel meal

Food: Raman noodles, trail mix, Cliff bars, rice, chicken noodle soup, oatmeal, granola bars, gummies, Crystal Light lemonade singles, coffee, tea

When we get the big camera loaded I’ll post some of Ryan’s masterpieces. He’s the camera man! Ryan said he’s having Raman noodle flashbacks,

J

Sometimes they like each other.

We loved the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove in Yosemite, but the giant redwoods with fern undergrowth, less crowds, and cool forest floor were more our speed. If you can see the giant sequoias, GO! But these coastal redwoods are worth a trip, too, and the banana slugs are worth seeing as well.

jb

We left San Fran and headed north on highway 101. We stopped in Humboldt County at the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Centers so the kids could see and put their feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. They had a ball. These were the biggest waves we had ever seen! We stayed for a little bit and let the kids roam around and play. After leaving we stopped at the Legend of Bigfoot store.

Bigfoot vs. Barefoot,

jb

Welcome to California!

We had some interesting things happen along the way. The kids and I made fun of Chris the entire time because he is such a perfectionist and likes things a certain way. ca

California

We drove through San Fransisco because I just had to go across the Golden Gate Bridge. We really wanted to go to Alcatraz and Angel’s Island but we just did not have enough time plus money was an issue. So driving across Golden Gate was a must. San Fransisco was crowded and busy but pretty with all the sailboats. When we drove through the city Chris wanted to fly down the hilly road and bottom out like they do in the movies. I talked him out of that. After we got through San Fran we hit Highway 101 and went up the northern coast.

I hope you are singing the theme song to the “O.C.” and if not I bet you are now. If you have no idea what I’m talking about…where were you in the early 2000s?!

J

We arrived early at the southern part of Yosemite (Wawona area) in order to get a parking spot (we heard the lots filled up early.) We parked in an almost full lot then hopped on a shuttle that took us to Mariposa Grove of Gian Sequoias. No personal cars are allowed down this road anymore. We spent a day hiking the Guardians Loop which was about 6-7 miles round-trip. We saw many of the popular trees like the Clothespin Tree, Grizzly Giant, and Faithful Couple. We also got to see the famous Tunnel Tree which fell over so it’s now known as the Fallen Tunnel Tree. It was estimated to be 2,300 years old! I kept hearing pictures do not do the tree justice and it is so true!

The Mariposa Grove recently underwent a huge restoration. (There’s a video if you scroll near the bottom.) The paved roads through the grove were dug up to try and save root systems. We were glad it had opened back up by the time we got there (it opened June 15 and we were there the week after) because this hike was high up on our list to do.

We enjoyed this hike much better than hiking in the valley. The shortest loop nearest the front was crowded but as we hiked deeper into the forest there were fewer and fewer people.

We visited the Pioneer Visitor’s Center so I could stamp my National Park Passport and off we went to enjoy our last night in our Homeaway house.

Big trees and California,

J


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