Senior Trip (Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce Canyon)

It’s a tradition for each ACF senior class to go on a trip together after graduating. It’s supposed to be a good time of bonding, reminiscing about college, and saying goodbyes. Last year, the seniors rented out a cabin in Vermont.1 The class before that went to Acadia. All very nice, peaceful things to do.

Our class decided to fly to Vegas.

Las Vegas

Well okay, we weren’t spending the entire week in Vegas. Rather, our plan was to visit some of the national parks out in the desert; Vegas, being the closest major city to said parks, was chosen as our rendezvous point. The timeline of our trip was basically decided unilaterally by Alicia, who informed the rest of us that she’d already booked her tickets. We were to arrive in Las Vegas on May 17 and depart on May 24. In between, we would visit a variety of parks, chiefly Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks—I’ll get to that part of the trip in a bit. But first, as the old adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. One cannot go to Las Vegas and not visit a casino.

Man with his named spelled out in Lego blocks
Yours truly having the time of his life in Vegas. Picture courtesy Eddie Li. (Click on any image to view at full resolution.)

Of course, being a religious group, our exploits were rather tame.2 Eddie did manage to make thirty-five dollars at the blackjack table; that was pretty much the extent of the gambling that went on. We also went to Hell’s Kitchen, the TV-famous restaurant. The food there—consisting of scallops and beef Wellington—was good but not really worth the price to me.

In general, I guess I can now say that I’ve been to Vegas, although I can’t say I was too impressed. Outdoors, we suffered in the absolutely oppressive heat. Indoors, it was quite cold,3 but we had to deal with the ridiculous sensory overload of being inside a casino lobby, with flashing lights everywhere competing for our attention. Not exactly my idea of fun, but hey, I think it’s worth experiencing at least once.

Zion National Park

The drive to Cedar City, our “home base” while we explored Utah, was pleasant enough. Incredibly, many desert highways have a speed limit of eighty miles per hour! There were some complaints about my (lack of) music taste, especially from certain individuals, but when you’re the driver, you get to determine the music (or lack thereof). One funny story: when stopping at a rest stop near the Nevada–Utah border, we accidentally took a wrong turn and took a brief detour through part of Arizona. Immediately, the landscape became significantly prettier, with some attractive canyons by the roadside. We joked that Nevada had really gotten the short end of the stick when drawing the border.

Man driving with desert out the window
Me driving through the desert. Picture courtesy Joshua Tsai. (Click on any image to view at full resolution.)

Anyway, we arrived at Cedar City without much incident, settling into our AirBnB and making a trip to Walmart to gather supplies. Walmart practically sponsored our trip—I think we went there almost every single day to pick something up.

The next day, we drove to Zion and took the bus into the canyon to do our first hike. The hiking was quite nice, although truth be told, I was more impressed by Yosemite when I went there. Sadly, the most famous part of Zion, the Narrows, was closed when we went due to flash flood risk, but nonetheless it was a decently scenic hike. We encountered some wildlife, most of which was rather pedestrian; I was surprised by how many squirrels there were in Zion. However, we did get to see a pair of California condors, which made me thankful that I had randomly decided to lug my binoculars on this hike. I honestly wouldn’t have noticed the condors if not for the small crowd that had stopped ahead of us to watch them.

That night, after noticing the favorable viewing conditions, we went out to the Parowan Gap for one of my favorite activities: stargazing! As one might imagine, the Utah desert is quite a good place to see the stars, equalling or even surpassing other great spots that I’ve been to such as the Grand Canyon or some of the more remote parts of western Pennsylvania. We spent some time taking various pictures, though no one had brought a “real” camera, so we had to make do with our phones. Still, we managed to get some fairly nice shots.

The next day, we went hiking again, this time driving through the park to get to the trail head. This hike was quite enjoyable, following a creek through the Kolob Canyons to get to Double Arch Alcove.

Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain passes to do the famous Angel’s Landing hike, but we did get to do a glorious sunrise hike, catching the sunrise from the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. I did a brief reading from Psalm 50, which was oddly fitting for a sunrise hike at Zion, if taken out of context.

The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

Psalm 50:1–2

The sunrise over Zion Canyon was, of course, very pretty and an excellent time for pictures, so we took quite a few.

I normally don’t wake up this early, but I must admit that I can see the appeal. It feels quite nice to have accomplished a great hike and still have the entire day ahead of you. We took full advantage of that and spent the rest of the day at the next place, Red Rock Canyon in Utah.

Red Rock Canyon (Kanab, Utah)

Red Rock Canyon is a short but beautiful slot canyon near Zion; it was probably the prettiest thing that we saw on the entire trip. The canyon is slightly confusing to find. I believe its official name is Red Rock Canyon, but this is easily confused with the more famous Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas (which we also visited later). It’s also called Peekaboo Canyon, but this is easily confused with a different Peekaboo Canyon in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. However, the beauty of the slot canyon more than makes up for how difficult it is to find and access.

And difficult to access it is. There is a road from the parking lot to the canyon, but it’s covered in deep sand and meant for ATV use. A four-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance might be able to get through on a good day, but I was renting a Ford Fusion, so this was clearly not going to happen. Despite the warning signs not to, our plan was to hike the roughly three miles on the ATV road.

It was a bit of a mixed experience. About half of our group was composed of avid hikers who really enjoyed the hike (including me), but some people in our party were not really hikers and probably would have preferred to take an ATV to the canyon. Initially, the going was quite slow; the scorching desert sun and deep sand meant we had to stop for frequent breaks. Halfway through the hike, we decided to ditch the sandy road and hike on the open desert. This offered two advantages: it greatly reduced the distance we had to go (since the road was curved), and the sand was much more firmly packed off the road. Also, I absolutely adored the desert scenery around us. Still, the hike was fairly physically taxing, even for a group of twenty-somethings.

But this all paid off when we got to the canyon, which was incredibly photogenic. We had a fun time walking through the slot canyon and taking some pictures inside. There were quite a few other people, but as far as I can tell, nearly all of them had driven in using an ATV.

After eating lunch, it was time to head back to the cars. Some of our group members decided to hitchhike a ride back, while the rest of us hiked back. Hitchhiking sounded pretty fun, but I couldn’t resist hiking back. I rather enjoyed hiking in the desert—a physically taxing hike with gorgeous views is exactly my kind of thing. Since we had a smaller group and took the shortcut the whole way, we made pretty good time on the way back, arriving at the cars without much incident.

In general, if you want to do the hike, I would say to go for it. However, make sure that you bring enough water, know how to find your way, and have sufficient physical fitness.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Having exhausted everyone with some strenuous hiking, we naturally had to spend the next day doing even more hiking. In retrospect, it would have been wise to plan a rest day, because tensions started running a bit high with everyone so tired. However, the people planning the trip happened to be the most avid hikers among us, so we planned a lot of hikes.

We spent Sunday at Bryce Canyon National Park. We went to morning service in the park, which was kind of interesting. Afterward, we had lunch with some of the staff in town. Chasing them down was a bit of an adventure, leading to some memes about “ACF kidnapping tendencies.”

The main part of the day was spent seeing and hiking among the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, which were some of the coolest rock formations that I’ve ever seen. We filmed an impromptu humorous Chinese-language nature documentary in the canyon, which I will link here if it ever gets edited into a presentable state.

After hiking through the main part of the canyon, we paid a visit to the Mossy Cave. The cave itself was a bit underwhelming; it was just a mossy cave. (To be fair, I’m not sure what else I was expecting.) However, the landscape around the cave was fairly pretty, containing a combination of desert, rocks, and a waterfall, which are three of my favorite things.

There were a few interesting geological features here: some stone arches and pink rocks (due to mineral deposits from the waterfall). There was a fun off-trail rock scramble to get to the top of one of the rock structures, which I quite enjoyed.4

Red Rock Canyon (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Having had our fun in Utah, it was time to go back to Las Vegas. But there was still some more hiking to do; we visited Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas to do the scenic drive and get in a nice hike. We eventually arrived at a small pond near the top of a rock outcropping. Most of our group rested here, but Josh Tsai, Josh Yeoum, and I wanted to get to the very top of the rock. This proved somewhat challenging, requiring a fairly difficult rock scramble, at least by my standards. However, I’m glad we did it, since the view from the top was spectacular, overlooking Las Vegas. There were a few other neat finds, such as a small cave large enough for someone to sleep in and a summit register, which we signed. This was probably my favorite hike of the entire trip, mostly due to the rather technical rocky ascent at the very top.

After coming down from the rock, we finished the scenic drive and saw some neat petroglyphs before heading back to Vegas. We then had the classic debate about where to eat (which can take quite a long time in a group of eight people) before finally settling on going to an Asian plaza in Vegas for dinner and dessert.

Hoover Dam and Goodbyes

We spent another day in Vegas before leaving, although I’ve already described most of our activities above, so I won’t elaborate here. As everyone trickled out on their own flights, Josh Tsai and I ended up being the last ones in Vegas; our flights home were both quite late at night. Having most of the day to ourselves, we decided to pay a visit to Hoover Dam. Josh is a civil engineer and I’m a big nerd, so this was quite exciting to us. I was quite impressed by how large the dam was, and the dam tour was very fun.

We then went around Las Vegas for a bit, visiting the pawn shop from Pawn Stars, which I used to watch with my dad when I was a kid. We ran a few final errands, including mailing a postcard to Gordon, before saying goodbye and getting on our own flights home.

All told, senior trip was a ton of fun and a great way to wrap up college. I haven’t really talked about all the in-betweens—games of fishbowl and Nertz; the Great Pillow War; the abuse I suffered from Alicia, Ingrid, and Ting in the car—but they were just as important to making the trip special as all of the big-ticket adventures shown above. Thanks to everyone who went for a wonderful trip, and also for a wonderful four years of college!

  1. Francis even made a video series of it for Youtube!↩︎

  2. Much to Alicia and Ingrid’s chagrin. If they had had their way, we would have all ended up at a nightclub…↩︎

  3. I’ve heard that casinos intentionally keep the temperature very cool to keep you awake longer so that you can gamble more.↩︎

  4. I should probably note that you’re officially not supposed to go off-trail, but it should be fine as long as you’re cognizant of your surroundings, aware of your limits, and careful not to cause any damage.↩︎