While the real #JenRanAdventures does not begin officially until January 10, 2018, we decided to take a long weekend trip to Zion National Park, Utah, and the Mojave National Preserve, California.
Zion National Park, located in southwest Utah, near Springdale, is a 146,000+ acre preserve established in 1919. The park is known for its brightly-colored Navajo Sandstone cliffs and outcroppings within a deep canyon along the Virgin River, but there is much more to the park, including desert, riparian, and forested areas. We hiked two trails while there (Riverside and Emerald Pools), and visitors can find plenty of hiking adventures, as well as rock-climbing and picture-taking. Be prepared to use the free park shuttle during the busiest times of the year… and when you’re done, consider driving the Zion Park Scenic Byway (along Hwy 9).
The Mojave National Preserve, located in southeastern California, near the towns of Nipton and Baker, is a 1.6 million acre desert wilderness that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It includes the world’s largest forest of Joshua trees, beautiful lava beds, a cinder cone field, large sand dunes, and the Marl Mountains, as well as home to the former Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa and now the site of a desert studies program. One of our favorite stops was the old Union Pacific Kelso Depot, once a thriving hub for both passengers and railroad employees, and now the visitor center for the preserve. (By the way, while the depot is no longer used for trains and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places, the train tracks are still quite in use by freight trains.)
As for lodging, we did not take our little trailer on this trip. In Zion, we chose to stay at the Zion Lodge within the park. It was built almost one hundred years ago, and the buildings fit nicely into the natural surroundings. The rooms were fine (the beds not so much), and we were delighted by the visiting deer outside our first floor deck. While at Mojave, we stayed at the historic Hotel Nipton, part of a wonderful and crazy little place that has big plans for transforming from an old mining and ranching town to becoming a mecca for tourism and the growing marijuana industry. Best part of our stay: it’s located right next to the train tracks and we saw and heard trains all day and night.