Monday, November 26, 2012

Snow Canyon Bike Ride

Snow Canyon State Park in St George, Utah is a great way to see the red rocks that Southern Utah is known for.  It has been a state park since 1958 and is very well developed with bike trails, hiking trails, camp grounds and bathrooms.  Most out of staters visiting Utah spend all their time at Zion or Bryce National Parks and miss some of the spots us locals enjoy like Snow Canyon State Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park which are every bit as beautiful but perhaps on a smaller scale than their National Park cousins.

Gwen and I decided to start biking from the top of the canyon to the bottom which would be approximately 5 miles and drop 1,500 feet in elevation.  Needless to say, I don't think either of pettled once.  We made a quick pitstop at the sand dunes which Gwen loved playing in.  As we wrapped up, she commented a couple times that it was the best bikeride she's ever been on...I think not having to pedal might be part of the reason.

It had been many years since I'd visited Snow Canyon.  The north entrance is only about 2 miles past one of my favorite golf courses in the St George area, Valderra, so it's difficult to drive past.  We had a great time and plan on playing there again in the future.

Gwen biking in Snow Canyon

Snow Canyon State Park

Gwen biking in Snow Canyon

Playing at the sand dunes in Snow Canyon State Park

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Angel's Landing, Zion National Park

Probably the most famous hike in Zion National Park is Angel's Landing.  Our family has done more "family friendly" hikes in Zion in the past, including the popular Canyon Overlook Trail.  Anyone who has made this hike is proud to share that they hiked a trail so perilous that they had to hold on to a chain in order to keep from falling down a several hundred foot cliff.  It is this slight degree of danger and the bragging rights that come with it, along with the tremendous views, that makes the famous Angel's Landing hike in Zion National Park so fun.

Katie and I took Gwen to climb to the top of Angel's Landing on the day before Thanksgiving.  It was a perfect day to do this 2.5 mile hike in that hardly anyone was there and the temperature was a perfect 65 degrees.

The hike starts out with a warning sign that points out 6 people have fallen to their deaths since 2004, this had Gwen concerned to say the least.  It sets out fairly easy, following the river at the base of Zion Canyon, but soon starts to climb up switch backs with about a 10% grade.  The hike is paved to the top, but is still a bit of a workout due to the steepness.

After about an hour we got to the top, and Katie felt very content to call that good.  She has made it to this point several times in her life and didn't feel the need to go any further.  Gwen was stuck in the middle, me prodding her to continue and Katie telling her to "just do what she was comfortable with."  It was Katie's subtle way of having Gwen stay put.  I was proud though as Gwen did decide to go on, and Katie reluctantly followed.

The final stage of the hike is where Angel's Landing gets interesting.  The trail goes up about 1/2 mile across what can only be described as a sliver of land that at times is only about 20 feet wide with 300-400 foot cliffs on either side and a chain bolted into the ground to give some peace of mind that if your footing slips, you can grab hold and keep yourself from plummeting to the canyon floor below.  I was proud that Gwen moved easily through this section.  I was even more proud that Katie overcame her fear of heights and made her way over this last 1/2 mile, at times on all fours.

By the end, Gwen was happy she did it.  This really is one of those hikes that is just a "must do."  It was a great way to spend some good family time together.

Start of Angel's Landing hike informing that 6 people have died since 2004

The last 1/2 mile of Angel's Landing Hike

View of Zion Canyon from the top of Angel's Landing

View from Angel's Landing

The thin strip of land to reach the top of Angel's Landing

Gwen and Katie on the switchbacks walking down Angel's Landing Hike

Monday, November 12, 2012

Our Top 10 Favorite Hawaiian Beaches

We were lucky enough to have lived on Oahu for a few years.  Other than Oahu, we have only visited Kauai and Maui, so if there are any amazing beaches on the Big Island, Lanai, Molokai or any outer islands, our apologies for not including them.  We hope to visit them all one day.

Playing with the kids at Waimea Bay Beach
Oahu tends to get a bad wrap by travelers who imagine Hawaii will be a quiet pristine location with grass skirts and palm trees.  True, parts of Oahu are quite urban, but I don't think it gets enough credit for having some of the best beaches in Hawaii.  In fact a good friend that had lived on many of the islands claims the north shore of Oahu has the best beaches in all of Hawaii.
  • Sunset Beach-Found on the North Shore, Sunset Beach is wide and long and perfect for a family day at the beach.  The waters can be calm and peaceful in the summer and have 20 foot waves in the winter.
  • Lanaikea Beach (Turtle Beach)-This beach is famous for the sea turtles that can often be found there.
  • Waimea Bay-A gorgeous scenic bay on the North Shore, the waters can be perfectly clear in the summertime.
  • Bellows Field Beach Park-Found on Bellows Air Base, it can only be accessed during weekends and holidays by the general public.  It can get windy, but the waters range from blue to green and about 1,000 shades between.
  • Waikiki Beach-Maybe not a beach I could relax on for 5 straight days of vacation, but certainly worth one day as it's great for people watching and a pretty impressive urban beach.
Kaui tends to be what mainlanders imagine Hawaii to be, sparsely populated and amazingly beautiful.  It is the island of steep mountain cliffs waterfalls (also rain).
  • Ke'e Beach-This is the last beach found at the end of the road on the north shore of Kauai.  It is also the start of hike of the Napili Coast.  Very beautiful beach.
  • Poipu Beach-Fun family beach with good snorkeling and generally sunny on the rainy island of Kauai.
  • Hanalei Beach-Maybe the perfect beach; big, beautiful, breaking surf, and just amazing.
  • Anini Beach-A 2 mile beach protected by a reef.

A lot of tourists love Maui because it's a hybrid between enough shopping and restaurants, but not too many.  We liked Maui for many reasons, but not necessarily for its beaches.
  • Kaanapali Beach-This is pretty busy beach with surrounding resorts.  It has great views of Lanai and whale watching in the winter.
Turtle at Lanaikea Beach

Some nice homes on Hanalei Bay Beach

Ke'e Beach and the start of the Napili Coast
Sunset Beach

Mason on Waikiki Beach

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hotel Review: Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City

We were invited to stay at The Hyatt Escala Lodge at Park City with some friends in a 3 bedroom unit and were very impressed.  It was named one of SKI Magazine's "Top 10 Hot Hotels in 2010."

Park City is really broken up into 5 locations to stay, Newpark, The Canyons, The Base of Park City Ski Resort, Main Street Area and Deer Valley.  For a long time The Canyons was the least developed of the ski resorts areas and felt very isolated, but they have poored a ton of money into the resort and the addition of a few very nice hotels and timeshares have helped add to the area.  The Hyatt Escala is certainly the best hotel at The Canyons.

Things I liked:
  1. The rooms were gorgeous and quite spacious.  The bathrooms are beautiful.  The kitchen was amazing.
  2. The location is right next to the main lift for the resort.
  3.  The service was quite good.
  4. Very nice restaurant.
  5. A very nice rock fireplace.
  6. The Hyatt Escala is only a quick 30 minute drive from the Salt Lake City Airport.
Something I wasn't a huge fan of:
  1. The swimming pool was quite small.
  2. Some of the lower floored rooms in the back lacked a view.
There are several high end lodging options in Park City.  Our stay may have been a little unusual in that we in a 3 bedroom residential suite instead of the standard room, but our daughter commented that it was the nicest hotel room she's ever stayed in.  She lists it as one of her 10 favorite hotels in the world.  It would be difficult to argue that.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hotel Review: Courtyard St George, Utah

I recently stayed at the Marriott Courtyard in St George, Utah.  I've stayed in many Courtyard hotels through the years and would put this one quite high on the list. 

Things I liked about this Courtyard:
  1. The St George Courtyard is quite new.  The property feels fresh and well maintained.  The rooms are nice with very clean look that included granite surrounds in the shower. 
  2. The staff was quite friendly and seemed to have a good handle on the area.
  3. The location of the Courtyard Hotel was easy to find, it was right off I-15, but tucked back from the freeway so there wasn't any freeway noise. 
  4. Very nice pool and lounge areas.

St George is an amazing location with a ton of options to stay busy.  It is a town with a population of about 75,000 people.  It sits in the southwest corner of Utah about 7 miles from the Arizona border and about 1 1/2 hour drive on I-15 from Las Vegas.  It is famous for its red rocks and blue skies.

Things to do:
  1. Golf.  That's what I do when I'm in St George and some of my favorite courses anywhere are in the area and at a great price.  Sand Hollow is a must play.
  2. Hiking.  There are countless options for hinking in the area, but Snow Canyon State Park and Zion National Park tend to be most popular.
  3. Boating.  There are a few smaller reservoirs close by, Sand Hollow and Quail Creek.  Lake Powell is only about 1 1/2 hours away and is one of the most incredible bodies of water in the world.
St George is an area that has long been known by Utahns, but word is getting out.  It's a great town and I highly recommend the Marriott Courtyard in St George, Utah.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Valderra Golf Course-St George, Utah

Valderra Golf Course in St George, Utah is the same course that was once called The Ledges.  It is a Dye designed course (Matt Dye, not the famous Pete Dye).  To reach this course, you have to drive through town and take Bluff street about 8 miles outside of St George.  I've played this course 3 times and enjoy it it.  I don't crave playing this course, but never would say "no" to a round at Valderra.

The Valderra Golf Course in St George, Utah is almost like two separate 9 hole courses.

Front 9:  The front 9 is fairly straight forward, flat and nothing too special.  A couple of the holes are challenging, especially 7 and 9.  Hole 9 is a fairly long par 4 with reeds down the left side and a very narrow fairway.  It is tempting to pull out your driver so you'll have a short approach, but it better be accurate as the fairway narrows as it gets closer to the green.  Then the approach shot is to a deep, narrow green with wetlands immediately to the left of the green and bunkers down the right of the green.  It requires an accurate shot and it's important to land the ball close to the pin so you're not left with a long putt.

Back 9:  The back 9 of Valderra Golf Course is where the course really starts to come to life.  Once you get to hole 11 on the other side of the highway, the course starts to meander along Snow Canyon State Park.  The green for hole 11 backs up to this gorgeous red rock canyon followed by hole 12 that is a beautiful par 3 with the red rock canyon all down the left side.  The course tightens up on the back 9 and accuracy becomes quite important from tee to green.

Complaints:  I wasn't overly impressed with the greens.  It might be due to them being a little wet when we played, but other golfers had done a poor job of repairing divots.  The front 9 lacks imagination, but their still nice holes and in good shape.

Positives:  The back 9 is gorgeous.  The practice area is better than any course in the St George area not named Sand Hollow.  The restaurant is delicious and offers some good choices, not just hotdogs at the turn.  The golf carts have GPS.  And the price is very good.
The green of Hole 11 at Valderra Golf Course

The Par 3 Hole 12 at Valderra Golf Course

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