Wild Bison, Death and Angels (Part 3) Oh, and my Birthday!

Back on unfamiliar road, we head Northeast. I drive while Riley recuperates in the passenger’s seat from a couple of blisteringly hot days in one of the hottest and driest places on Earth. Aside from stopping a couple of times to refuel (our stomachs and our vehicle) and to use the facilities, our drive to St. George, Utah is short and sweet. We arrive in this pleasant town with plenty of daylight left. Our first matter of business is fixing Riley’s hair. Mind you, I don’t see what’s so horrid about her new haircut – but I’m a guy and I know nothing about women’s hair. Riley tracks down a highly reputed hair salon, inside which she spends her first St. George hour. She emerges smiling and beautiful. Seemingly, her haircut is fixed. Hooray!

While the initial plan was to camp here for 3 nights, the impending storm and our dirty nails plead otherwise. Instead, I locate a Marriott brand hotel which will accept my absurd collection of Marriott points. I haven’t mentioned Corporate America in a while, but here’s a good opportunity: One benefit of working for a large company is the benefits. Back when I worked for a Big 4 Accounting firm, I spent many days and equally as many nights traveling the United States and collecting countless Delta Skymiles and Marriott Rewards points. Now I can guiltlessly stay in a large comfortable bed for free.

I drop Riley off at the hotel before setting off for a nearby disc golf course. Despite disc golf being a serious passion of mine, I only played it twice in San Diego. This is unacceptable, especially compared to in Atlanta, when I would “frolf” with my friend, Nick, sometimes twice in a weekend. This course is nice. Nothing spectacular, but nice. A huge open field, within a park, surrounded by canyons and mountains. The layout of the course is a zig-zag with little obstacles, making for little challenge. I spend a few calming hours tossing the plastic and walking from teepad to basket. Tonight, I’m the only player on this course. I shoot a respectable 4 over par.

On the drive home, a rainstorm commences. Rain; what a pleasant sight. Having only seen water fall from the sky a handful of times in the past 5 months, I enjoy this moment of car-pounding wetness. I walk into my hotel room to the site of a tiny spec immersed within a ginormous square of wood, cotton and cloth. Tiny Riley lays beneath the covers in our enormous king-sized bed, making for a very entertaining visual. I order some Thai food and chow down while planning our hike for the next day. Being the cheesy lover of surprises I am, I refuse to inform Riley the plan for tomorrow.

Day packs packed, we hop in the car and head towards Hurricane, UT – home of Zion Canyon. As we near we can’t help but stare out the window with mouths agape – massive red-orange canyons, chiseled to perfection, surround us. The canyons boast diverse shrubs, plants and even flowers and press against a blue-screen sky. We park in a dirt lot and track down a shuttle. 30 minutes later we stand at the trail head to Angel’s Landing. We pass a sign forewarning hikers of the dangers of this trail. A picture of a stick figure falling off a cliff leaves one with a feeling of disconcert.

“Misha, are you sure this is safe?” my risk-averse girlfriend asks me.

“I guess we’ll find out,” I reply.

The hike begins along the Virgin River which, while it may appear weak and helpless, is actually the source of all the beauty around us. Over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, the Virgin River has carved Zion Canyon into the formation we see today. I marvel at this fact, as the river is only a few feet wide at it’s widest point, and struggles to carry a leaf along it’s waters; yet the canyon around us is thousands of feet tall and equally as wide.

The trail consists of switchbacks, of various inclines, carved into rock. We spot freshly bloomed desert flowers, familiar and unfamiliar shrubs and even an owl. 2 miles and a 1,500 foot increase in elevation later, we arrive at the infamous chains. These chains encompass the next half mile of our journey, as we shimmy up steep and narrow rock towards the apex. Parts of this section are certainly challenging, and it’s never a good idea to stare down at the canyon floor, but neither Riley nor I feel overwhelmed by this challenge. In fact, we find this section significantly easier than it was made out to sound on Trip Adviser. The 5-mile round trip journey takes us 3 hours to complete. We hop back on the shuttle and head back to the visitor’s center.

Our bellies having worked up an appetite and the calendar (showing May 5) screaming Mexican food, we drive back to St. George with one thought on our mind – San Pedro’s Family Mexican Restaurant. After a reasonably long wait, we are guided by our server towards a red-cushioned booth beneath a sparkly green, red and beige sombrero hanging from the wall. Before we finish reading through the appetizers, crunchy chips and fresh salsa arrive before us. We gluttonously munch down, knowing damn well that we’re suppressing our appetites before even ordering our entrees. Riley orders a burrito while I order fajitas.

A few pieces of shrimp and a sliver of chicken later, I look up at my girlfriend who is ¾ the way through her burrito. “You may want to slow down, Riley. It’s been like, 3 minutes, and you’re nearly done with an entire burrito.”

Riley looks down at her meal and her eyes expand in wonder, as if to say, did I really just eat all of that? “Am I going to feel sick?” she asks me.

“Most likely,” I tell her.

With great effort, Riley nibbles on the rest of her burrito in a slow and mindful manner.

I wake up and it’s my birthday. Yay! I’m 26 years old. I think that’s the last birthday milestone – at 17 you can watch R-rated movies; at 18 you can smoke cigarettes and buy porn; at 21 you can drink yourself to oblivion; and at 26 you can rent a car at a discounted rate. Not much else to look forward to, I suppose.

Riley presents me with a pair of Converse sneakers. She knew I wanted them, and she got them for me – what a gal! I know how difficult it was for Riley to keep this a surprise; as she had asked me on numerous occasions whether I knew what the rectangular shoe-box-shaped cardboard box in our car contained. She also asked me, even more frequently, if she could tell me what my gift was. But I gotta hand it to her – she stayed strong. Never once revealing that my gift-to-be was a pair of gray, size 9.5, low-top Converse sneakers. I try them on and walk a few steps in them. Perfect.

Our day packs packed, yet again; this time with a few additional pieces of gear, we head back towards Hurricane. Prior to entering the park, we stop at Zion Adventure Company, where we rent slip-resistant water shoes and a walking stick. We then drive the remaining ¾ mile to the park before transferring to a shuttle. Today we hike the Narrows; a hike famous for it’s breathtaking beauty, as you hike through the Virgin River, in between narrow canyon walls.

The first half mile or so of this hike in on dry ground. It then transitions to water. Before immersing ourselves in wetness, we change into our waterproof gear – sneakers come off and are replaced with water shoes; shorts and t-shirts are covered with rain-proof pants and jackets. I then climb atop a small rock structure and hide our sneakers so as not to lug them along with us.

The water is cold, but our gear prevents numbing. We eloquently step from rock to rock, as we traverse the river. At times, the water shallows to our ankles and at other times it comes up above our belly buttons. Less than a half mile into our hike I spot a dead deer in the water. “Flash flood must be coming,” I tell Riley. She doesn’t react, as she knows my stupid jokes by now.

We continue our slow pace through the canyons, awe-struck by the endlessly tall structures on all sides of us containing various shades of red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. This reminds me of the time I explored the Valley of Fire, in Nevada, with my parents; during which my dad taught me how various elements react with rocks, causing certain colors to emerge. We continue for a total of 2 more miles, coming up just short of the Orderville Junction, famous for its waterfalls and 1,500 tall walls. We head back the way we came, now moving with the tide. Our old buddy, the dead deer, remains where we left him, now a herd of flies circling his corpse. Upon arriving on dry ground, we gather our shoes and make our way back to the trail head. Filthy and wet, we rush into our respective restrooms and change into dry clothes.

The adventure at this magical park has ended, but we still have a birthday to celebrate. On the way back to St. George we stop at Cliffside Restaurant, cozily located, as the name suggests, on the edge of a massive cliff. We eat ornately decorated appetizers, salmon and steak entrees, lilokoi cheesecake and chocolate cake. Our stomachs having joyously expanded and our minds at ease, we leave the restaurant satisfied with our day. We arrive at our hotel exhausted and are soon situated beneath the king-sized sheets dreaming of canyons and cakes.

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