Family Vacation to Arches National Park

We hiked to this huge arch in Arches National Park in spite of frigid temps.
It's always a challenge finding the best vacation place for a family.  My husband likes the outdoors and museums.  My son likes the swimming pools.  I'm looking for some unique experiences with good photography opportunities.  We've started doing more vacations within the USA because there is simply so much here to see that we still have not done yet.

I stumbled on Frommer's "100 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up".  I've seen a few of these lists, and have read a few books on the topic, but this reference is free, so it's worth a look if you're making vacation plans with families.  The lists are always a bit different from each other.  This one color codes the type of attraction.  I wrote last year about a few books that I would give as gifts to families, which included travel ideas and shared experiences.

My husband had a meeting scheduled in Salt Lake City in December, so we discussed whether it would be a good time to make it a long weekend and do some sightseeing.  I've had Arches National Park on my possible vacation destination list for about a year, so we looked at how that might work out.  It's still a 4 hour trip by car from Salt Lake, but the reviews said it could be interesting in low season because the rock structures are still there and the night time star viewing should be amazing.

We ended up going to Utah for 5 nights.  We flew into Salt Lake City at night and drove the next morning to Moab, UT.  It was a pretty drive in spite of the cold.  I might mention that even though the temperatures were in single digits, it was much more bearable in Utah than if we had the same temps here in Wisconsin.  It must be the dry air that does it.  We did notice the dryness affecting lips and hands though.  It's like as soon as you step off the plane, your face shrivels up and you have chapped lips immediately!  The drive was indeed 4 hours, but Price is a good stopping place about half way.  We ended up eating lunch there and visited the Prehistoric Museum for about an hour.  They have more dinosaur skeletons than the Chicago Museum, since the area is rich in dinosaur excavations. The displays cover archaeology and paleontology, so I think anyone could find something of interest there.  Omar (at age 8) especially loved the area where you could dig for bones.  If you go in nicer weather, there's a quarry nearby where many dinosaurs were found, and you can check it out for yourself.  It's called the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.
One of the dinosaur skeletons at the Prehistoric Museum at Price

We made it to Moab an hour before sunset, so we picked up some snacks at a local grocery store, and then drove directly to our hotel, Red Cliffs Lodge.  We had read good things about the location.  It's situated on the Colorado river on scenic highway 128 which runs between Moab and Colorado.  It was an amazingly beautiful drive with a frosting of snow on the red rocks.  This is low season, so all the activities they advertise are not available, including the restaurant.  If you go in warmer weather, you can enjoy horseback riding, rafting, hiking, swimming, and winery tours.  Omar was seriously disappointed that the hot tub and pool were outdoors and were frozen over.  The view from our room was pretty amazing.  You not only get a nice view of sunset reflected on the rocks, but the sunrise comes from behind Fisher Towers, which are visible too.  We played in the snow for awhile and waited for the stars to come out.  We had been told this was one of the best places for seeing the milky way and night sky because you have no light pollution.  You can see photos at the Night Sky link on the Red Cliffs website.  What we saw that night was nothing short of magnificent- even better than the photos on their link.  There were only 6 rooms occupied at the Lodge that night, and one of them was a photographer trying to get some shots of the sky.  I know this because Omar kept shining his flashlight in her face as we tried to enjoy the sky ourselves.  Without a flashlight, you can barely see to get from your room to your car just a few feet away.
Backyard at Red Cliffs Lodge on the Colorado River
There was some new snow the next morning.  We headed into Moab to try the best breakfast in town at Eklecticafe.  Be sure to look for it if you're in town.  Great espresso drinks, quiche, pancakes, and more.  Not a huge place but the service makes up for that.  In warmer weather, you can eat outdoors. We also picked up some water bottles there, as there are warnings everywhere not to travel in the parks without it.   Then it was off to Arches National Park.  If you have a child with a disability like Omar, you can get a free pass to the national parks, so it was free for us to get in.  Arches Park is open 24 hours a day, so you can see it under all conditions and there are even star tours in the area.  A guide will take you out with a telescope and show you the best of the night sky.  There's also a photography tour.  If you have the funds and want a total exploration, there are opportunities of all kinds.  Because of the extreme cold, we decided to do our own tour and I consulted these photography tips to be sure I was happy with what we saw and photographed.  Some great tips there.  Unfortunately Delicate Arch and several others in that region of the park were closed due to icy road conditions.  We had to settle for a hike in another part of the park, but it was good enough.  Easy hiking in the snow with a few slippery spots.  There were icicles hanging on the cave portions.  The sunshine seemed to be endless!  You need sunglasses for this kind of snow.
The red formations are huge!  See tiny Omar next to this one.

He found this cave with icicles and wanted to lick each and every one.

There are more than 2000 arches but we saw maybe 10.  These are some of the larger ones.

By afternoon we had seen most of the road that runs through it and headed back into town for lunch.  Omar only eats pasta and pizza, so it was easy to determine lunch should be at Pasta Jay's.  We wanted to experience the sunset and see more of the scenic highway so we went out to Fisher Towers, near our lodge.  It's easy to take the wrong street since they all look like dirt paths covered in snow.  We ended up out in a field with free range cattle, and they looked a bit surprised, before we found the correct road.  The towers are a state park and it's free to see them.  There are 2 hikes there, and we opted for the shorter Photography Hike.  It takes you a way up the towers and you get a nice view of everything around.  The cool thing about sunset is that the rocks continue to change colors as the sun sets.  The shadows play with the shapes, and it's so fun to watch that you might miss the actual sun setting on the other side of the canyon.
you can see the shadows on the lower parts of the towers

Bright orange and red hues

The sun sets in the wild west
Our last night at the lodge, we stopped in at the Movie Museum that is in the basement of the Lodge.  This property was the site for many westerns, including those starring John Wayne.  Some of the later movies included Back to the Future, Thelma & Louise, and City Slickers.  If you remember the Marlboro Man commercials, they were also filmed here.  Even the bathrooms at the lodge have movie photos on the walls.  You're bound to see something familiar.
My husband, Abdulhamid, with John Wayne

Lots of photos from the many years of movies

Sadly, our wild west adventure ended abruptly due to a snowstorm that was predicting 20 inches of snow in the mountains.  We had to leave very early the next day and make our way SLOWLY back to Salt Lake in blowing snow in nearly whiteout conditions. If we'd had another day, we probably would have seen Canyonlands National Park too.  We'll have to make that another warmer weather!

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