In addition, this trip was sort of a fulfillment of a childhood dream of mine. When I was young, my parents bought a beautiful picture book detailing all of the national parks in the United States. I remember the one picture that really stood out to me was from Zion Narrows. The red-hued slot canyon seemed to literally engulf it's hikers, who were standing knee-deep in the Virgin River. This image stayed with me throughout the past 20 years, and I was very excited to finally be able to see it up close and in person.
The largest airport near Zion National Park is Las Vegas, although there is a closer municipal airport near the town of St. George, about 30 miles southwest of Zion. It is serviced by Skywest Airlines (Delta Connection), but flying into St. George isn't cheap. Thus, we decided it made much more sense to fly into Las Vegas, pick up our rental car, and do the quick 3-hour drive to Springdale, the small town right outside of Zion National Park.
Amazingly, when searching for airfare from San Jose, CA to Las Vegas, I realized that only Southwest Airlines services this direct route - which came as a big surprise to me. In any case, I used my newly minted Southwest Rapid Rewards points earned from their recent credit card offer to book a one-way ticket from SJC-LAS. I will talk about the return flight later in this post, as I used a lesser-known method to secure an award flight back.
This was the first time I flew out of the new Terminal B in San Jose, and I was very excited to take some pictures and explore the shops and restaurants. I'm happy to say that it is absolutely beautiful inside, and I'm very proud to call this my home airport (despite my love for SFO :)). There were sculptures and artwork, a large and efficient security check area, tons of seats with power outlets, and plenty of restaurants and shops showcasing some of the best of Silicon Valley. After seeing all this, I really do hope that SJC can continue to expand despite the economy and recent exodus of airlines from this hub.
The trail head for the 16-mile hike actually starts outside of the park at Chamberlain's Ranch. We booked a shared shuttle through the Zion Adventure Company, and they drive you from their office in Sprindale all the way there, with the one-way trip taking approximately 1h 30m. We also rented all our equipment from them as well, including the tent, water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and hiking sticks. For those who don't know, the vast majority of the hike is in the Virgin River, with the river serving as the trail itself. During various parts of the year, the water level can go up to chest-deep... and through certain portions of the trail, we actually had to swim short distances (yes, with our backpacks on)!
End of Canyon Overlook Trail
Zion Narrows trail head at Chamberlain's Ranch
Hard to imagine the Virgin River starts as a little creek
Water hiking shoes, neoprene socks, and walking stick
Entering Wall Street
Sliver of sky
Aria water wall
View from the room
Using this knowledge, I went ahead and combined my return flight from Las Vegas (with a quick layover in LAX) with my departure flight to Cambodia next March. Thus, my entire award flight became LAS-(LAX)-SFO-HKG-PNH, with a 5-month layover in San Francisco ;). Using this method, I saved the miles I would have needed to book my return flight from Las Vegas, and just tagged this itinerary onto my Asia trip next year!
I will say, however, there is a slight risk involved with doing this, since once you start your award itinerary, you cannot cancel it for any reason. So if my plans change within the next 5 months and I can no longer go to Cambodia/Laos, then I will have forfeited all of my miles associated with the itinerary. Hence, fingers crossed that nothings happens between now and then!