Zion National Park, UT

Twice now, Zion National Park has stolen my heart. I often get asked to tell of the natural beauty of my home, as if pristine landscapes are exclusive to New Zealand. And New Zealand IS beautiful, one of the most beautiful countries I've visited to be sure, but there is so much beauty to be seen in the States that I am always surprised to hear that people think they'll only find such things abroad. Zion is one of those places that takes your breath away, and it's accessible to anyone. So if your soul is craving some time in nature and you haven't yet made your way to Utah yet, then it might be time you jumped in your car and made your way through the desert to this incredible National Park.

Only 7 hours from Los Angeles, the drive to Zion can be done in a day or, if you're feeling adventurous, can be split up with a stop in Las Vegas which is only 5 hours away. We chose the latter, not because we hold a particular fondness for Vegas, but because it was my husband, Dillon's, 27th birthday and we wanted to celebrate by taking him to a Cirque du Soleil show.

Keep in mind, Dillon had no idea this trip was planned and all that I had told him was to clear his schedule from Sunday through Wednesday, so when I threw our bags in my car on Sunday morning and strapped a scarf around his eyes, I could tell he was nervous. He made the risky move of telling me he desperately didn't want to drive to Mexico (thank goodness I hadn't planned on it or the trip would've been a disaster from the get go) but mostly he was a good sport. It turned out the blindfold didn't have much of an effect because there is only one road into and out of Malibu and given that Dillon grew up here, it was no easy task trying to disorientate him. He could literally tell that we were spinning around in circles in the Ralph's parking lot by the feeling of the bumps in the road.

Thankfully our friends, Cutter and Cassidy, txt me to say they were waiting on the road pretending to hitch-hike so I could take the scarf off Dillon and give up on my mission of confusing him. So as we drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, the questions of where we were going started up again until I flipped on my indicator to pull over for two hitch-hikers. It took Dillon a couple seconds to realize what was happening and when it dawned on him, I knew it had been the right decision to go on the trip with friends because his smile was absolutely priceless. Since Cutter and Cassidy moved back from San Francisco, the boys have been inseparable, so I asked Cutter if he would help me plan this trip. 

So we threw their bags in and I took the first shift of driving because Dillon still had no idea where we were going. As we made our way out of the city, it became a little clearer by which Interstate we were taking and by the time Cutter played Damien Marley's "Road to Zion," Dillon had caught on. And although it was no longer a surprise, I could tell that Dillon was relieved that we truly weren't going to Mexico and were instead going somewhere he had wanted to visit for a long time.

That afternoon we checked into the Cosmopolitan Hotel and spent an hour enjoying our balcony view of the water show over at the Bellagio before making our way out on a walking tour and mini shopping spree (for the boys...seriously) in All Saints. That evening we had a birthday celebration dinner at Beauty and Essex which specializes in Tapa-style dining. The food was delicious and the service was amazing and the grilled cheese dumplings were incredible. We had an hour or so to kill before the show started and so the boys played a few rounds of Roulette and Black Jack; they suffered dismal losses at Black Jack but both cam dup on top at Roulette so as soon as we had made our money back, we called it quits and headed to the Bellagio for the show.

I'd been to a traveling Cirque show in San Francisco a few years earlier but seeing it at a set location was incredible because the stage that they had built was a work of art. If you've never seen O, the entire show is based around a water story, so the stage was equipped to be a massive pool at one minute and then platforms would somehow rise in a matter of seconds so that the stage would become dry and, at times, give the effect of people walking on water. It was pretty amazing and our seats were great (thank you Cutter) but like the old people we are, we were pooped by the end of it so made our way back to the room for an early night.

We woke early the next morning so that we could make the most of the hotel's day spa, Sahra Spa, and split up for an hour to use the hot-tubs and sauna's before setting off for another day of driving. The 'road to zion' was only two hours and the landscape was much prettier to look at. About an hour in we were surrounded by red rocks and before we knew it we were checking into the Springhill Suites where we had booked our next two nights of stay.

Thankfully it was a Monday and forecast to rain because there were no crowds as we made our way to the shuttle in the hopes of making the Angel's Landing hike before dark. It took us about 3 hours round-trip and at times you're required to scramble over rocks and hold onto railing's as you stare down shear cliff faces, but for the most part the hike is accessible for most able bodies. I'd done the hike a few years earlier but I was still blown away by how incredible the view is from the top. It's the kind of view that makes you feel simultaneously insignificant and inspired. The light was beginning to turn golden and most of the crowds had left at that point so aside from a family that was randomly from my hometown of Hamilton in New Zealand, we had the pinnacle to ourselves for a few blissful minutes. 

Angel's Landing was truly the highlight, but we spent the next two days hiking along the river walk (Narrow's were closed) and up to the Emerald Pools, lounging in the jacuzzi back at our hotel and eating at a mixed bag of restaurants. There was some questionable Mexican food in there somewhere and a delicious Italian restaurant with the worst atmosphere, but all in all we felt pretty blessed to be there at all.

Despite the bad weather predictions, we had beautiful weather until our final night which was perfect because when we woke up on the last day we weren't too bummed to be heading back to California. We stopped at some crystal stores and loaded up on geode's and interesting pieces of glass so that we could bring a little bit of Zion (and Africa and China as it would turn out) back home with us. 

So if you're ever in the States and want to do something nourishing for the soul, definitely check out Zion. I've done it by way of camping and staying in hotels and both are amazing. The National Park is so well looked after and all of the utilities are beautiful so whichever way you decide to do it, you will not be disappointed.