Sarah and I had a wonderful wedding in May 2018, but with family visiting from out of town and immigration details to sort out we chose to postpone our "real" honeymoon until 2019. Instead we went on two "tinymoons" within the United States, one to Utah and the other to Asheville, North Carolina. Both were fantastic opportunities to see some of the amazing natural scenery of this country.
Tinymoons -- Fall 2018
Tonight after work we headed to the airport to catch our flight to SLC. Sarah's United Gold Status paid off and got us upgraded to business class for the short trip, which was nice as Sarah seems to have caught a cold and isn't feeling well this evening. Another great part of business was that Pablo was on the same flight and also got upgraded, ending up sitting behind me. He's headed to the SLC comic con, obviously. It was great to see him and chat a bit.
At the airport we hopped in our rental car (Kia Soul) and headed to an airport hotel for the night. The hotel (Tru by Hilton) is brand new, fancy, efficient, and super convenient. All of this was pleasing since the flight didn't improve Sarah's condition at all so she was ready to sleep. Hopefully she's better in the morning.
Today was fantastic and Utah is gorgeous! We got started a bit late this morning as Sarah was still feeling under the weather, so we hit up Walgreens for some drugs and eventually got on the road after a hotel breakfast. The drive to Bryce Canyon National Park was long, but also quite pretty, and super easy on well maintained highways with 80mph speed limits. Sarah slept as I drove and was feeling a bit better when we stopped for a quick lunch in Bryce Village just outside the National Park.
We parked in the village and took the super convenient park shuttle to the visitor centre, and then onward into the park stopping at Bryce Point and Inspiration Point for phenomenal views of the canyon and all of its hoodoos. The hoodoos are tall, thin spires of sedimentary rock that was laid down at the bottom of an inland sea millions of years ago, and then eroded unevenly since then. After seeing the spires from above we got back on the shuttle to Sunset Point to do the Navajo Valley hike through the hoodoos themselves, returning back up the canyon rim on the Queen's Garden trail. The hike was spectacular and Sarah crushed it despite being sick and having to deal with the elevation (the rim is 8000' above sea level).
After our hike we took the shuttle back to the parking lot and then started the drive to Springdale, the town just south of Zion National Park which we'll be visiting tomorrow. The drive was along Scenic Route 89, and it certainly lived up to its name. We saw tons of amazing natural features, and Sarah even spotted a Pronghorn Antelope at one point. The final section of the drive along Highway 9 through Zion was especially pretty and featured a super long tunnel with occasional "windows" in the stone to give glimpses of the amazing valley below.
Our hotel here in Springdale is serviceable, but nothing fancy. For dinner we went to a nearby Mexican restaurant and then hit up the local ice cream shop for dessert. Finally we picked up a few groceries for our lunch tomorrow and then went to sleep.
We slept in a little bit this morning, and then had a pretty good breakfast at Cafe Soleil. Despite our later start and the insane popularity of Zion we were still able to get a parking spot in the main parking lot. Apparently the week after Labor Day is one of the rare slow times at the park, lucky us!
Like Bryce Canyon, Zion has a super great shuttle to get around the park to help manage traffic. We took it from the visitor center to the Weeping Rock, a cool rock overhang that regularly drips water that actually runs through the stone and is forced out at the overhang, supporting a vast amount of vegetation. It's pretty cool. We then walked across the river valley to the next shuttle stop and caught the bus to the trailhead for the main event, the Narrows Hike.
The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, and one of the most popular hikes in the nation. The full trail is an overnight hike, 16 miles in length from a private ranch down the Virgin River into the heart of the park. Much of the hike is literally in the river, as the canyon is so narrow that even when low the river fills it side-to-side. It's almost impossible to get permits to do the full hike, but you can hike up river from inside the park as far as you want and then turn back. The river was relatively low today so we were able to get quite far and only get wet up to our knees. It was an absolutely amazing experience with lots of friendly people. As we were entering the river someone leaving even gave Sarah a walking stick!
After the Narrows we went to the Emerald Pools hike, most of which was closed due to a recent storm that had absolutely obliterated chunks of the trail. The first pool was pretty neat though. After the hike we returned to the car to change out of our wet hiking boots and begin the drive to Lake Powell where we're staying tonight.
The drive was really pretty once again, much of it along official scenic routes. The landscape changed a bunch too, getting more desert-ish, with buttes starting to appear. After a nice sunset stop at the main overlook over Lake Powell, we drove into town, got dinner at a legit Mexican place, and settled into our hotel for the night.
We got up in good time today and headed out after a quick hotel breakfast. Our plan today was to drive to Moab via Monument Valley. Monument Valley is a region of huge sandstone buttes which has been used since the 1930s in many films depicting the American West. The actual valley is located on Navajo land and the tribe manages tourism in the area.
The entire drive today was consistently gorgeous, and the stretch through Monument Valley was especially awesome. We paid the access fee to do the 17 mile drive on the floor of the valley itself. The roads were rough but passable and it was definitely worth the time and money to see it all up close.
After a couple hours of jostling around the valley we headed on to Moab, a drive that also provided excellent scenery. For dinner we found a Vera Pizza Napoletana restaurant for excellent pizza, beer, and tiramisu. Then we got a few snacks for our hikes tomorrow and picked up a few beers from Moab Brewing.
Today was a very full day! We started with a quick hotel breakfast and then drove straight to Arches National Park to get in early before the crowds. After a quick stop at the Visitor Center we headed out on the scenic drive around the park stopping regularly to see all the buttes, petrified sand dunes, and of course the arches. The park is full of them! We did a short hike at the Windows arches and the famous Double Arch (seen in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), and another short hike to see Delicate Arch (the one on Utah license plates) from afar. There is a moderate hike to get right up to Delicate Arch, but it's completely exposed and it was hot today so we decided to skip it in favour of a hike to Landscape Arch, the biggest in the park. Probably the coolest thing in the park is the Fiery Furnace, a collection of narrow sandstone canyons, fins, and arches. You have to book a special pass in advance to hike through them as their ecosystem is quite delicate. We couldn't get one, but are definitely going to try to come back and do them in the future.
The hike to Landscape Arch was fantastic, with several other arches along the way. We had lunch on the trail and took several other breaks to avoid dehydration (it was pretty hot and dry). The arch itself is huge and very thin. You used to be able to walk under it, but a bunch of it collapsed in 1991 and they figure the rest could go anytime now. Sarah stopped at the arch while I continued on a bit further, hiking up a rock fin to see Double-O arch.
After we finished at Arches we took a quick look at Canyonlands National Park, the biggest National Park in Utah. We didn't have much time so we just did a short scenic drive. As the name suggests it's full of huge canyons. It's carved by the Colorado and Green rivers and is part of the same system as the Grand Canyon. Certainly a place to come back to in the future.
Next we made the long and surprisingly boring drive to Provo. The goal was to get back close to SLC for the night so that we can do more stuff near the city before leaving for home tomorrow. We succeeded, but now it is time to sleep.
We're back home now after an easy flight from SLC. We spent the morning driving up to Park City, looking around there, and then driving over the mountains to Salt Lake City. Park City is cute, and very clearly a ski town. We had fun at the Roots store, each buying a couple things as they were having a big sale. We had a nice lunch at a brewpub too. The views were lovely on the drive once again and the trip overall was spectacular. We're definitely going to return to Utah and its wonderful National Parks in the future!
For our second "tinymoon" we chose to go to Asheville, North Carolina. Sarah discovered the city and suggested it, as it has one of the highest number of breweries per-capita and it is close to Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
We took a red-eye flight to Charlotte last night using points. It was as good as a red-eye in economy can be. After arriving we picked up our rental car and drove to a biscuit place called "Holler & Dash" for tasty breakfast biscuits and coffee. Then we drove the two hours to Asheville, stopping once at a rest area for a bit of a break.
We're staying at an Airbnb downtown, but we were too early to check-in when we arrived in Asheville so we parked the car in the Biltmore Village neighbourhood. We wandered about looking at shops and getting more coffee at a cafe and then drove to meet up with Frank and Jess.
Frank and Jess moved out to North Carolina about a month before our trip. We didn't know they were moving until long after we booked the trip so it was awesome that we just happened to pick their new home to visit. Our original plan for today was to canoe with them down the French Broad River, but the recent hurricanes meant that the water level was too high. So we changed our plans to focus more on food. Lunch was at Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack, for authentic fried hot chicken. It was fantastic!
After lunch we quickly checked into our Airbnb and then the four of us went to Wicked Weed Brewing's "Funkatorium," the place where they handle all of their sour beers. It was phenomenal. The selection was enormous and the quality was beyond all expectations. We each did a different sampler so we got to try a ton of beers. Then we headed to their outdoor beer garden for more beer and chatting.
To work off the beer we walked across town to a pretty great chocolate shop where we had yummy drinking chocolate and other treats. Then we walked to another section of town and put our name in for a table for dinner at Buxton Hall BBQ. The wait was over an hour, so we popped next door for more beer at Green Man Brewing. It wasn't quite as awesome as the Funkatorium, but it was good and they had board games so we played Whoonu until our table was ready.
The BBQ was North Carolina style and fantastic. They also had amazing hushpuppies (deep-fried corn bread) which were totally new to me and wonderful. After dinner we headed back to the Airbnb and went to sleep immediately.
After sleeping like the dead for eight solid hours we got up and drove to "Hole Donuts" to meet Frank and Jess for breakfast. I'm not a big "donuts for breakfast" person, but these were literally the best donuts I've ever had. They make them fresh when you order them and the flavours were fantastic (Earl Grey and Toasted Almond Sesame Cinnamon were the best). Between the four of us we ate like eight of them.
Donuts aren't super filling, so we continued breakfast across the street at "Taco Billy" which specializes in breakfast tacos. Frank and Jess have had bad luck with Mexican food since moving to NC, but they declared Taco Billy to be quite acceptable.
After breakfast Frank and Jess left to return to their children and we headed north out of the city to go hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. The drive up was super pretty with just the beginnings of fall colours. Our plan was to hike three "balds" with amazing views, but unfortunately the clouds were low and heavy this morning so we couldn't see anything. We turned back after hiking the first bald and instead drove down into a random valley just for fun. On the way back out after the drive we discovered that the clouds had cleared somewhat, so we re-hiked the first bald to see the views...they were great!
Back in Asheville we had dinner at a lovely random restaurant. I had bison steak and Sarah had quail. Then we walked back to Buxton Hall to grab a slice of their famous banana cream pie which was all sold out last night. We enjoyed the pie with beer at Burial Brewing and then returned to the Airbnb to sleep.
This morning we got up early and went to Biscuithead for "cat's head" biscuits (i.e. biscuits the size of a cat's head). The food was awesome and the restaurant had a jam and butter bar with all sorts of flavours of jams and butters for putting on your biscuits. After breakfast we bought some snacks from a co-op grocery store and then headed to Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
The drive was very pretty and soon we arrived at the visitor centre which featured an outdoor museum of authentic buildings from typical farmsteads in the area from the 1800s. Also they had chickens which is always fun. We continued past the visitor centre to the trailhead for the Alum Cave hike.
The hike was great, with super green trees, a really nice river, a big natural rock arch, a lookout point, and finally the "cave" at the end which was nice but more of an overhung cliff. We ate our snacks at the "cave" and then headed back to the car. On the way out we stopped at a few more lookout points and then we were ready to head back to town but got stopped near the visitor centre where a huge herd of elk were hanging out in a field. Rutting season has just started so the dominant male (with very nice antlers) was doing all sorts of rutting-type behaviour including trying to drive off the two confused looking juvenile males. It was fantastic to watch!
Back in Asheville we had dinner at an excellent restaurant called "Rhubarb" which serves local seasonal dishes, portioned for sharing. It was delicious and a perfect last dinner in Asheville.
After dinner we stopped by the Funkatorium again for a beer and to buy some bottles to bring home. Back at the Airbnb I killed an enormous spider and then we went to sleep.
Today was mostly a travel day, although we did have an awesome breakfast at Sunny Point Cafe before driving back to Charlotte to catch our flight. At the airport we checked out the "Minute Suites" which is a funny lounge included with my credit card. They are tiny individual rooms like a strange hotel. It was nice, but a bit dark.
Our flights home were pretty uneventful, although we had to transfer in DC so they took a while. Asheville was a great place to visit! And it was a super fun bonus to see Frank and Jess! We would definitely come back.