Growing up in the suburbs of Maryland, I’d always felt like I was missing something. I’d spend hours in my room creating mood boards of the life I wanted – one with beaches, a healthy lifestyle and lots of hiking. When I was 16 years old, my family took a trip to California. I took a blurry picture of the Hollywood sign on my film camera and when I came back home, I placed that photo in the middle of my moodboard on my wall. It’s still there today. It wasn’t the fame that I was after. The sign in that photo represented freedom, authenticity and the opportunity to travel to places that inspire me. Places like where I sit now, watching the sunset from my Under Canvas tent, glamping in Zion National Park. Places I would have never seen if I had let go of my dream.
Six months ago, I moved to Los Angeles from New York, leaving the concrete jungle behind in search of nature, healing and truthfully — to fulfill that childhood dream. I’m turning 29 next week and it’s only now, looking back that I can see how every decision, every challenge, and every moment was instrumental in shaping the path that led me here.
Decades from now when I look back at my life, I won’t remember all of the nights I stayed in to meet deadlines while my friends went out. I won’t remember working late on holidays or not taking all my vacation days. I spent my entire life up until this point making sure that every “decision” would help me get to LA.
What I will look back and remember, are how the tears rolled down my face when I finally booked that one-way ticket. And how seeing the sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park changed the way I see my place in the world. And how the mere size of the mountains in Zion brought me to tears with their stoic silhouettes.
I’ll remember the moments that made me catch feelings I never knew existed. The moments that only pure worldly beauty can arouse by traveling to an unknown place. These moments, as fleeting as they may be, are a reminder that we are alive. Our stories are a work in progress, and we are editing with every moment, every challenge, and every decision.
Sometimes the smallest events end up changing the course of our lives, forever. This weekend in Zion was one of them.
Day 1 | Los Angeles to Las Vegas
My boyfriend helped me load my brand new car (it’s used but I bought it 2 weeks ago) with my weekender bag packed with scarfs, hiking boots, an outfit for Las Vegas, and two film cameras. I love road trips. As soon as we headed out, I felt the quintessential freedom of the open road — until we hit traffic on the 101. Our 5 hour drive grew into 7 hours. We decided to break up our drive to Under Canvas Zion in Zion National Park with one night in Vegas for several reasons. It had been forever since I’ve had a night out like I would occasionally do in NYC. I also hadn’t been to Vegas in over 10 years, and it was conveniently on the way to Zion from LA. And then there was the obvious – who doesn’t want to stay in a hotel in the shape of a castle?! Thanks, Excalibur Hotel & Casino!
So, we arrived on Friday night with tired eyes from driving but excited legs looking for a dance floor. The dancing never happened, but we did wander into one casino after another, ending up in a taxi headed to the “most popular” club, per our driver’s recommendation. We stayed late, watched other people dance and to my satisfaction, I successfully lived out my 12 hours in Vegas fantasy. Personally, I don’t need to go back for another 11 years.
Day 2 | Las Vegas to Under Canvas Zion
Late nights make for late mornings. We checked out of the hotel at 11am and hit the road right away, opting to drive first and stop to eat later. Well, later came quickly as the landscape around us began to open, the road cleared and the fresh air beckoned. We invited the sun to warm our skin through the sunroof and turned up our desert playlist. Adios, Vegas. Hello, the open road.
In total, the drive from Vegas to Zion should take roughly two and a half hours. It took us four. We stopped to admire the mountains at various degrees of distance. We stopped when the roads narrowed into local streets. We stopped at the infamous Peggy Sue’s diner in Mesquite, NV for a good 50’s style diner meal. We stopped at every small town we passed through.
For the most part, it was quiet. It was the most “middle-of-America” that I have been. The middle has miles of empty space framed by silhouettes of mountains in the distance, and some truly incredible people — and delicious coffee. River Rock Roasting Company became my obsession and thankfully, it’s served everywhere.
Four hours, two cups of coffee and zero bars of service later, we happily traded our castle-shaped hotel for a canvas tent at Under Canvas Zion. My first thought was how clear the air was out here. After checking in, we found the route to our campsite, passing a group people laughing and toasting marshmallows for s’mores over a large bonfire. We found our campsite, #38, on top of a hill that overlooked the rest of the property, its tents dotting the landscape around us.
Our canvas tent was larger than my first apartment in NYC. It had a large furnace, firewood, matches, king size Casper mattress, towels, chairs, flashlights, working toilet, and a propane shower. It far exceeded our expectations. Outside of our main tent and to the right was a teepee, fully stocked with a sleeping bag, flashlight, battery pack and pillows in case we decided to “rough” it in the wild.
My favorite amenity, though, was the silence. There was no wifi in the tent. There were batteries with USB outlets to charge our cameras and phones, but we opted not to use them. With no distractions and nothing to disturb us, the air was filled with an unfamiliar silence. Just the crackling of our fire in the dark outside.
We walked down to the main building for dinner and s’mores and received some surprise snuggles from a puppy that lived on site named Blue. We ordered some wine in a can and headed towards the crowd near the firepit that we first passed earlier in the evening. The strangers there soon became our friends. We laughed late into the night trading stories and jokes under the full moon.
The moon was so bright that it illuminated the entire campground. Back in our tent, I opened the window above our bed to let the light shine in. Coyotes were howling in the distance, their cries echoing between the canyon walls. I sat in awe of my surroundings, gazing out the window. This was far different than the view from my second story West Hollywood apartment window. I stayed up late trying to commit the scene to memory.
Day 3 | Zion National Park
Another late night turned into a late morning. We may have missed the sunrise but we didn’t miss the coffee and breakfast in the lobby. We got out of bed around 9am, showered, and dressed for adventure. Our new campfire friends had filled our ears with suggestions on where to explore. So much so, that we decided to head out and explore today.
We asked the concierge at the lobby to help us find the best trail at Zion National Park for beginners. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a novice hiker. Unless you count some small trails in Maryland, the concept of trekking through mountain trails was entirely unfamiliar to me.
The staff recommended that we start with the Emerald Pools. We forgot to pack a water bottle so we grabbed one at the souvenir shop in the welcome center. I still use that water bottle today. It serves as a souvenir of some of my favorite memories.
On the hike, the pure size of the landscape was enough to bring me to tears. My life felt small by comparison. I thought about all of the life that these mountains had seen and how many seasons they have lived through before me.
It took us 2.5 hours to finish, hiking at a leisurely pace. As the sun began to set, we knew it was time to head back. Our new friends from the night before were long gone and the weekend was coming to an end, but we had one more night to make memories.
So, we started the fire and made s’mores just the two of us. We laughed when the marshmallows caught on fire and slipped into the fire. We smiled at our fingers covered in chocolate. And, again the next morning when we discovered melted chocolate on our hiking boots. I looked out the window at the mountains before falling asleep again. I never wanted to forget how beautiful the world felt at that moment. The coyotes woke up again in the distance. Their cries were quite comforting by now.
Day 4 – Zion National Park to Los Angeles
We packed up our bags, said goodbye to Blue, and drove away with the reflection of the mountains in the rearview mirror.
The ride home felt long. We arrived well past my bedtime. I fell asleep to the sound of helicopters and car alarms. There were no wild coyotes howling in West Hollywood. The next morning, I woke up to face the palm tree outside my window and I felt the urge to escape the city. Even after a 7 hour drive the day before, I was once again ready to leave. I wanted more freedom. More nature. More memories.
More feelings that I never knew existed, like the comfort of falling asleep beneath the stars to the sound of wild coyotes howling.