My Zion and Bryce Canyon Vacation Photos. Hey, where are you guys all going? Come back!

by | Dec 2, 2014 | Advent, Travel, Travel With Kids | 29 comments

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you have already seen some grainy iPad mini photos of our big Camping Thanksgiving trip to Utah.

But NOW, I’m going to virtually trap you in my living room and show you my vacation photos like an aloha shirt grandpa with a slide show.

There are a lot of photos. But it’s not my fault. Zion and Bryce Canyon are astoundingly beautiful. I want you to see it all. And then I want you to come back Thursday for the big Joules Clothing photo shoot. (And some exciting news!)

Southern Utah is about an eight hour drive from Southern California. So we loaded up the Nissan NV with luggage and car seats and kids and barf bucket hats, and off we went.

We took a detour to see the kitschy sights on Route 66.

And to drive down the Las Vegas strip.

We arrived on Wednesday evening at our home for the holiday: the Zion Ponderosa Ranch.

We had a campsite with a fire pit and a grill and a picnic table, and there were showers and bathrooms and a dishwashing sink. And, oh yeah, a cozy little cabin with real beds and heat. And wifi. Because that’s how I like to camp these days. In a warm bed.

The husband and the boys were in the tent, and Frankie and the girls were in the cabin.

The ranch/resort is between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, so we were able to visit both.

On Thursday, we headed over to Zion to take some photos and pick up Junior Ranger booklets for the kids. They like to earn their Junior Ranger badges at all the National Parks we visit. Then we came back to camp so I could attempt Camping Thanksgiving.

Thanks to the advice of the good people of the Catholic All Year Facebook Page, I had spatchcocked the turkey before we left home, and so we set that on the grill to cook in two pieces. In the meantime, I made Jim’s Mom’s Ginger Pumpkin Bisque recipe, and some green beans on the camp stove, while Betty made the mashed potatoes in the crockpot. Once the turkey was done, the rolls and pies went on the grill to warm up.

Usually my mom hosts Thanksgiving at her house, but this year, they went to Iowa to visit my sister. I hated to think of her turkey dishes not getting used for a whole year. So I brought them with me. Camping. And crystal wine glasses and engraved silver handle cups for the kids. Because I’m fancy.

Dinner turned out great. I’m not a person who couldn’t go on if Thanksgiving dinner had been a disaster. It’s just not that high on my list of priorities, so it was a risk we were willing to take. But it was all hot and cooked and tasty. Although . . . I did cook the bag of giblets again. I have never yet managed to successfully remove the giblets from a turkey. If I take out the neck, there’s a bag of other stuff in there. If I take out a bag of stuff, there’s another secret bag in there. And yet, we are so far all alive.

The sunset was pretty spectacular.

The next day we got up early to head to Bryce Canyon. But before we got there we saw . . . SNOW. As it turned out, none of the kids born since we moved from Chicago back to Southern California had any memory of having been in the snow. So we had to stop. And touch the snow.

Then on to Bryce Canyon.

We hiked down into the red dirt of the canyon, through tunnels and along steep cliffs. It was about a three mile loop.

The views were none too shabby.

If you’re in to that sort of thing.

Not everyone is.

The most striking part of the landscape were these “hoodoos,” which are crazy, giant, towering rock formations that are very, very old but look poised to tip over at any moment.

Also, there were wild animals everywhere. We saw wild turkeys, bison, big horn sheep, birds of all kinds, and an absolutely ridiculous number of deer. We saw at least a hundred deer.

Back at camp we ate mac and cheese around the campfire, because it was Friday and we like to keep it meatless.

On Saturday, we headed out hiking again. This time back at Zion.

The parks are less than two hours apart, and both have the distinctive stripes of color in the rock formations that we had seen before at the Grand Canyon, but the hikes were really different.

Saturday’s hike had forests (and sandwiches). And rivers.

And reflecting pools.

And waterfalls.

It was a 5.2 mile loop and there were a lot of rocky steps and scrambling over stones, but Frankie did almost the whole thing walking on his own.

Lulu got to ride with me for most of the way.

But Gus wanted to help, right at the end.

And there you have it. The Tierneys went to Zion and Bryce. We highly recommend them. Good job, God.

Then, Sunday morning, we got back in the van and headed west. You’re not going to believe this, but a few other folks had the same plan.

But we made it home eventually! After a stop at St. George in St. George for Mass. And the longest recorded bathroom stop in human history in Primm, NV. Never again. Next time, I’m getting us one of these
. That is all.

Okay, Thursday will have all the photos of the cute kids in the cute clothes, and the multiple big, exciting announcements. Then sometime after that, I’ve got a really, really great giveaway. So much good stuff comin’ at ya.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a nice, peaceful start to your Advent. Whew.

In case you are still in the market for one, here’s our cheap and easy, long-lasting, non-table-ruining Advent Wreath. It’s not too late!


  1. Julie M.

    I enjoy the fact that your husband is wearing a tie while camping.

    • Kendra

      Well, it WAS Thanksgiving after all . . . :0) But mostly it was because we took our Christmas card photos that morning, and I put most of the boys in ties for that.

  2. Kathryn Husing

    It it official, you ARE a robot!

    Haha, I am just kidding! I love how you show that having a big family means big adventure, not that you are tied down.

    And I noticed your husband's tie as well. Completely awesome.

  3. Anonymous

    What a fun time! Seeing your photos makes me simultaneously miss Utah and wish that we had been able to see Zion or Bryce, which were caught in the government shutdown when we were there last fall. And the fact that you organized your photos within 2 days of being home is nothing short of amazing.

    • Kendra

      Ugh, that was SUCH a bummer. We lucked out last year in that we had planned to stay in the state park rather than the national park for our trip to see the California Redwoods. But we missed seeing the famous named trees in the national park. So many people were affected by that silliness.

    • Anonymous

      Silliness indeed! That stinks about missing the redwoods. We had reservations to stay in cabins IN Zion and Bryce (and on the rim of the Grand Canyon also) and lost all of our lodging as well as the scenery! But we stayed flexible, successfully kept a roof over our heads, and had some fabulous non-national-park experiences in our nearly 3 weeks in Southern Utah.

  4. Amanda

    We went west for the first time (in my life, not just my kids') and saw the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert and they were extraordinary. But the ability to take a 3-5 mile hike through the amazingness is pretty tempting. If only Utah weren't so far from Texas…

    Your pictures are great and I am ever impressed at how many you manage to get of all of you.

  5. Becky

    Let's talk about camping with 7 kids. We have 6. Our oldest is 8. Tell me it will be possible in 5 years for us to do this because right now it seems absolutely impossible!

    • Kendra

      If you can handle taking them to Costco, there's no reason you couldn't handle taking them camping. Costco is a lot like hiking.

      In my experience ALL things got easier once my oldest was ten. Even family vacations. There are just more responsible people to help with packing and getting people dressed, and even cooking and dishes!

      Lulu was at a rough age for camping, since she's crawling, but not walking yet. I was really glad to have the cabin to keep her warn AND give her a place she could crawl around without getting utterly filthy.

  6. Amy Caroline

    Oh my goodness! (Said with great and dramatic pauses between each word) Camping for Thanksgiving! PERFECT. Why didn't I think of that?? Looks like it was amazing and beautiful.

    I am with you on the travel potty. Might be a good thing to have in every car for every occasion.

  7. Adrie Little

    …. All right. I've now planned next year's vacation. We drove through Bryce Canyon once… but now we'll need to make it a whole thing. Because wow those hiking trails!

    How was the temperature out there? The whole summer-camp-as-a-job thing makes it really difficult to do summer vacations… maybe this time of year would be perfect!

    And the bowties. I just can't get over the bowties!

    • Kendra

      The temperature was crazy! The cabin had heat, and we brought an electric space heater for the tent, because it was unseasonably cold at night, down below 20 degrees.

      We would show up at the ranger station at 9am when it opened and it would be 25 degrees, but then and hour and a half later it was 65! Crazy. But it did end up being perfect weather for hiking.

      And SOOOO beautiful. We really love fall camping.

  8. Elizabeth@SuperSwellTimes

    Kindly explain to me how mac-and-cheese over a campfire works. I like cheese, macaroni and open flames, so this needs to happen in my house soon.

    Also, we're using Advent as a time to get militant about meatless Friday. (No more ham sandwiches, Bret! Eat some of the bean salad I made for you, okay?)

    • Kendra

      I made homemade mac and cheese before we left and warmed it up in a dutch oven on the camp stove. It worked great. The pot was a bear to clean. But the boys were on dish duty that night, so . . . . not my problem. ;0)

  9. Elizabeth

    This is a fantastic idea. I think we could/should do this! We go on family adventures too and, yes, I post photos. It seems like if we love photos of food, birthday parties, smiling kids, pets, and family, then it would be odd to leave out gorgeous scenery and family outings. We drove to Alaska from Washington (2,600 miles), spent the summer in Alaska, and then drove home, mostly camping the whole drive. We had three kids, ages 3, 5, and 7 at the time. We drove to Glacier National Park with four kids, ages 1, 5, 7, and 9, and did some cabin camping there. We plan on another cross-country trip soon. But camping in Utah for Thanksgiving, complete with fancy meal…That looks fantastic. I really thought you were a little crazy for that, but the photos changed my mind.

    I love family adventures, and I appreciate that you can post these fun things with seven kids :). It's inspirational for all those who think they can't do family vacations with lots of kids, because I've heard many lament that before. It's one thing to fly to Europe and stay in a nice hotel — which would be awesome, but un-affordable for many. But successful camping trips complete with Thanksgiving dinner are just as fun and doable for so many families. Thanks for the inspiration and ideas!

  10. annemcd

    Can I tell you how much I love your "all in a line" family pictures? Its like a mix of fierce and approachable, all wrapped up in one. 🙂

  11. pianomanda

    Big family trips are always an adventure, huh? We had a nice road trip across two states and back with our four littles last week. My *favorites* are multiple bathroom stops in less than an hour on the road. But where else would we get the fun giggly memories? 🙂 Found you through Sole Searching Mama. 🙂

  12. Laurel

    So glad to see your camping trip to UTAH went well! 😉 And I love that you brought the fine china with you to do Thanksgiving dinner!

  13. Bonnie

    Frankie's stink face cracked me up!

    (I cooked the giblets, too. And we are still standing.)

  14. Nanacamille

    I was happy to send the Thksgiving dishes camping. What beautiful pictures of a fantastic adventure. We missed being on it with you this year but we saw lots of snow in Ames Iowa for Thanksgiving. Proud of Frankie doing all of the walking. Gus did all of the walking down in the Grand Canyon but slept through the walk up on Jim's back. The kids are good hikers. Did you remind Bobby that he called his first gear siting a goat.

  15. BGrady

    This is a bit of a lame comment, but I'm so excited to see and use your Advent wreath idea. We travelled over Thanksgiving as well and my kids are ON ME for not having Candles yet (they are melty and gross in the Christmas decorations). I will be off to the supermarket tomorrow and they can strip off the stickers. YEAH!! Thanks!

  16. Claire Rebecca

    I was in Zion Canyon about four years ago over Thanksgiving and it was beautiful (if a bit cold). I'm glad it went well!

  17. Ashley Sue

    How beautiful! I've always loved hearing other people's vacation stories (is that weird?). My chickadees also enjoyed seeing all of these pictures. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Elise

    What amazing pictures, Kendra! A warm bed would be my camping style, too. I'm not so great with the outdoors. Looks like you all had a wonderful time! And love the sweet pictures of your kids with the snow.

  19. Laura

    I would probably pick out something cute for my daughter, like that darling party dress your daughter is wearing 🙂

  20. Laura

    Annnnd this Advent we are doing a Christmas book a day and prayers and a song by our wreath every night. We made our own candles this year too.

  21. Rosa Patterson

    I had to laugh at "good job God"… Tru dat.

    In other news. Have you ever made one of those beautiful prayer print outs of the works of mercy? Cause I would be all over that. I need to frame them for realsies.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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