No one ever goes to vet school to create a game...but that is exactly what I did.
Ok, ok. That is not entirely true. I didn't got to vet school to make a game. I went to vet school because I thought my life mission was to help animals.
It turns out that my life mission was to help people, and when I tuned into my purpose, Vets Against Insanity sprang out the ether and into the hands of veterinary professionals around the world.
Let me back up.
About 5 years ago I started speaking on the veterinary conference circuit on things like customer service, self care, and professional development. One of my most favorite speaking gigs are the WVDLI sessions at the veterinary Fetch conferences every year. These are my favorites because I have the opportunity to share the stage with amazing female cospeakers AND the conference facilitators let me go hog wild with creativity. To name a few o the wacky activities we have faciliated have included playing 'never have I ever', marched in circles to Kesha's "woman", choreographed power poses, and chose our own adventures.
4 years ago, I was brainstorming in a zoom meeting with Caitlin DeWilde and Karen Bradley (my bad ass sisters from another mother and awesome leaders and business women in their own rights) about new ideas to facilitate adult learning for the upcoming year. I believe I blurted out, "What if we play a game? Like a dirty card game, but the vet version. I just. maybe. think we could use it to teach self care and leadership issues."
God bless those women...they said, "Go for it."
So we did. I cobbled together an initial set of question and answer cards, and sent it over to Caitlin, who fleshed out the answers, magicked the content into Canva, and printed out a couple of initial decks at Kinkos.
Bingo. We had cards, we had teaching material, and we had our charisma. Now we just needed the buyin from the veterinary attendees.
The first time we brought the cards to conference and played the game, I'm not gonna lie, it was rough. I was nervous about what people would think. Were the cards too dirty or 'out there?' Had I finally crossed the line? Would I ever get asked to speak again? The first time, I had a small group of attendees sit up front and play the game for the audience, but it just didn't seem to click. The next time, I handed out answer cards to every person in the audience, threw the questions up on the screen, and then handed the microphone around so that everyone could read their answers to the questions. On the microphone. In front of perfect strangers.
The results were straight up hilarious.
Some people had never been on a microphone. Some people could not understand their answers. Some people were embarrassed to read theirs, but to the hilarity of all (their's included) managed to blurt out things like 'electroejaculator' or 'pull it out before she swallows'.
(It's a reference to an endotracheal tube...you dirty, dirty minds.)
Over and over the room would erupt with laughter, and as they did, the creativity and bravado of the attendees came alive. People had so much fun with it!
We played it over and over, and the rooms began to fill up, until 100s of people were showing up to play the game. At the end of the conference season, DVM360 approached us and asked us if we would like to publish the game.
We published the game, offered it for sale, and completely sold out the first printing within weeks.
That morphed into more teaching sessions with the game, then sponsored game nights at veterinary conferences where perfect strangers would play the game together, laugh their asses off, and be friends by the end of the night. Then came the extension decks...x-rated, vet techs, vet moms. Nothing was sacred, everything was on the table, and it was awesome.
So that's the story of Vets Against Insanity, a game created by two veterinary moms with really twisted minds and an insider view of what it means to be a veterinary professional.
How does that help people?
Well...our profession has been pretty down in the dumps. We don't make a lot of money. A lot of us are up to our eyeballs in student debt. We work long hours at a dangerous job (that we still, somehow love). We deal with emotionally reactive people all day long. We can't save some animals. We euthanize animals. We watch people grieve over and over. We get bullied by our clients when all we want to do is help. We are burnt out and on the edge. We feel isolated and hopeless and too many of us end our lives too soon.
The game, I believe, is a tool for well being and connection. It gives people a chance to laugh and commiserate about a shared challenge. It makes us feel in the know and not so alone. It helps us laugh at something that might otherwise break us. It brings joy to the point of tears (and some peeing. I'm serious. Do your kegels...ladies).
I have sat at game nights watching people playing the game and almost cried with gratitude at the fun and creativity that was generated. I have felt overwhelmed by love and joy at the privilege of bringing something to my colleagues and coworkers that makes them laugh so much. I feel like in some small way, Caitlin and I made a positive difference for veterinarians and veterinary care teams all over, and that makes me feel like I did something good.
And now you know. :-)
If you want to purchase the game for yourself or someone you love (or the extension decks, vet moms is my personal favorite), visit www.vetsagainstinsanity.com
Much love and thank you for reading,
Thank you so much for stopping by to read my blog. I confess, this blog has been sadly neglected by me for quite some time. I've been on an epic journey and had many excuses for why I was not sharing myself through writing. Here I am, though, sitting down, forcing my fingers to click out words.
I stopped writing from my heart 7 years ago because the last time I did, I got punished...BIG TIME. I was hurt, my loved ones were hurt, I was financially threatened, and we were thrown into the outer darkness.
It sucked. Without getting into details and dragging the past into the present (because who has time for that?), I felt to blame (I wasn't), I punished myself relentless (I shouldn't have), and my muse disappeared. *poof* She gone.
I didn't want to blog again. My inspiration vanished. I didn't want to write or attract attention by sharing my heart, and get hurt again. It wasn't safe. So I wrote for hire - shielding myself behind my DVM degree and getting paid to write about animal topics. It was safe, it was lucrative, and I mostly enjoyed it because I was helping others.
And yet people continued to ask me when I was going to blog again. They missed the real me. It was annoying. I refused.
Fast forward 7 years. Here I am. I'm older, wiser, stronger, richer, more compassionate to others and myself, a bad ass warrior banshee to the core, and really (truly) have nothing to lose. I've gone to hell and back, faced my demons and unhealed parts of myself, bathed in forgiveness, and against all odds, I'm still here.
So maybe...just maybe it's time to write again about the things I really, really care about. Yes...I care about healthy pets....but even more than that I care about healthy humans. I have come here to this planet to heal myself, and in the process, heal others. I'm waking up, and I'm figuring out my life mission. I am not impressed and I am, at my best, unapologetic and unafraid. It is an exhilarating, free, and kinda dangerous place to be...but who has time for anything else?
So....to anybody who might be reading out there, thank you. I am not sure how many blog posts are going to come out of me, that's up to the muse, and she will not inspire if I am stressed or hurried, which tends to be my default nature. I'm working on that, and I've come a long way, but I have a long way to go.
My next post is going to be a story about how Vets Against Insanity was created. It's a fun story. I hope you like it.
Sarah, the warrior goddess, Wooten, DVM
I miss commercial breaks.
Quick confession: my family and I are borderline TVaholics. I mean - we work at lot, and exercise, and read, and travel, and ski, and swimbikerun and do all the things but seriously - if it weren’t for work, and school, and goals, and vitamin D, and maybe the need to eat and eliminate, we would park ourselves in front of our gorgeous, behemoth flat screen and consume obscene amounts of media.
Our TV is endlessly entertaining. Our family loves shows like America’s Got Talent, Alone, Face Off, American Ninja Warrior, and anything to do with buying an island in the Caribbean. (Hey HGTV - how do I get on that SHOW??) A few months ago HBO did the ole bait and switch and gave us three months free. I started watching Game of Thrones, which was a mistake, because now I dream about Jon Snow and dragons and believe that I am Sarah, of House Wooten, first of her name. I literally am obsessed with that show, except not when they cast Ed Sheeran as a soldier in the red army. Just no.
All that to say, when we have some down time, my family likes to hang out and watch TV. All of the shows are DVR’d, and while we are watching, I wield the remote like Arya handles Needle, parrying and thrusting in endless swordplay with commercial breaks. It’s annoying really, stopping and starting, and stopping and starting. My thumb gets tired. I don’t like it.
One day, in an effort to be rid of the ceaseless battle, I handed the remote off emphatically to one of my family members. “You fast forward through commercials,” I said. “I’m done!”
The thing was, none of them ever fast forwarded. Like...EVER. I’m not joking. They just let the commercials PLAY. It drove me nuts. “What is wrong with these people?” I thought, “have I raised them to watch ads like SHEEP?”
I would remind my family incessantly to fast forward, but not one of them cared to do so. They would get up and stretch, or go to restroom (biological need to eliminate, remember?), or get a snack from the kitchen, or goddess forbid, TALK TO EACH OTHER WHEN WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GLUED TO THE TUBE.
It was maddening.
A couple of weeks ago, before I left on my monster-sized work trip (9 days, 2 cities, 3 planes, 1 light rail, 7 talks, 2 videos, 6 interviews, 1 art museum, countless ubers, conference food), I knew I needed to spend some quality time with the kids. I suggested that we - you guessed it - watch some TV. AGT was cued up, and as soon as I hit play, we were mesmerized. When the first commercial break arrived, I dutifully picked up the remote to fast forward, but my youngest got in my face with his adorable dimples and Studio Ghibli eyes and said, “Let’s play mom train!”
I was about to be gone for 9 days. How could I resist?
In case you don’t know, mom train is a variation of a popular game at our house called dad train, where children of all sizes launch themselves onto dad’s back and cling like baby monkeys….ALL AT THE SAME TIME. The object of the game is to let them ride you like a horse, or more accurately a mom possum. It looks like this:
I had never played it before because mom train would have to take place during GOD FORBID commercial breaks. But tonight was different - I already missed them, and I wanted to connect, not just consume. I hit mute on the commercials, let them play on the TV, and for the next two hours, I let the kids play a version of living room Parkour with me during every commercial break. We laughed. We got sweaty and breathless. We jumped on the couches. We toppled pillow towers. We piled bean bags on top of each other and play Hot Lava. Then we would take a break, watch something amazing, and do it all over again.
I felt like I was 8 years old.
My kids clung to me like the primates we all are underneath the glossy exterior. Deep within us is a creature that craves physical and emotional connection and longs to PLAY. It is lodged deep in our primal brain, the part that drives our most basic human urges and needs. When you play, it releases all sorts of feel good hormones and pent up stress that really wants to live in your muscles. Don't believe me?
Let a 70 pound kid sit on your shoulders and just TRY to keep any muscle tension up in there.
As my kids jumped on and grappled with me, I felt things tearing lose, negative thoughts and feelings that had all been bound up inside of me. I kid you not - it was borderline therapeutic. I found myself wondering, can you sell this feeling??
For me, letting my kids, (including my 15 year old daughter who wanted in the action - she's a 100 pounds people!!) play silly games with me and on me was not only good for my body, it was healing for my soul.
The older I get, the more I realize that play is a missing component from many adult lives. I don’t mean go to BlackHawk and gamble, or get drunk and PARTAY, or golf (snore...I mean FOUR!) - I mean actual play like we did when we were kids; like pretending you are a pirate, or jumping on a trampoline, or building castles in the sand. The kind of play where you use your imagination, and laugh until your sides hurt, run like a bat out of hell, and whoop and shout and let go and FEEL the thrill and genuine pleasure of play. If more people played, I suspect that our collective consciousness would be a lot more positive.
For me, play had been reduced to melting in the couch, exhausted, in a heap with a glass of wine, or two or three, not MOVING for 45 minutes, staring passively at the TV screen, and then stumbling off to bed like a white walker. I really had NO IDEA what I was missing.
Letting the commercials play reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid, something that I have since realized has been dormant in me all along. It never went away, it just got buried in life - in vet school, in work, in failures and lost dreams, in financial concerns, in unexpected death, in arguments with my spouse, in dirty diapers, in unpaid bills, in anxiety, stress, and fear. Playing with my kids like I did that night gave me a feeling that I never, ever thought I could have again.
For that, I say bring back commercial breaks.
Bring back that moment when we can bring our focus to each other and really savor the joy that human connection brings.
Bring back the time to play, and tend to personal needs, and to actually TALK about what we are seeing on the TV together (OMG - Merrick Hanna? You fill my heart with joy. KEEP DANCING!).
Bring back a chance to move and stretch and reflect and connect and get kicked in the face and fall off the couch laughing and be a bucking bronco, or a knight’s steed, or a super spy, or a super hero.
Bring back the commercial break, and bring back life.
I have another rain camping story to tell you. It is hilarious. I still laugh when I think about it.
6 years ago we took the boys camping. They were 4 and 5 at the time.
I had been wanting to go for some time. I had lots of reasons: we live in Colorado, we have some equipment (you know - the usual stuff you need for outdoor wilderness fun: tent, air mattress, lantern, iPhone, plastic wine glasses), and we had kids that needed to make some memories, dammit.
So we went up west of Colorado Springs. This was our second time summer camping in Colorado - we had gone the year before with some good friends and nearly froze to death. However, this summer I was feeling confident, and armed with my vast Colorado camping experience (catch the sarcasm? you just wait), I brought warmer sleeping bags, warm pajamas, and lots of sweatshirts, jackets and wool socks. Forecast was decent...I thought. Highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s, isolated thunderstorms. No big deal, right?
How little I knew.
The first day we got there, it rained. It poured. It dumped BUCKETS of WATER ON US. I took one look at the sullen, sodden preschoolers and the nappy, muddy dog and raised the white flag. “Let’s go get some supplies,” I suggested to the soggy husband.
We loaded everybody up into the minivan. As we drove away, I prayed that the river that running through our campsite would stay away from the tent.
Not knowing what to do, we decided to try Woodland Park. Lo and behold, they had a giant Walmart where we could shelter and ride out the storm. Never before have I been so grateful for Walmart. For the next two hours, we hid out in like bandits, riding bikes through the toy section, eating fried chicken from the deli, and convincing ourselves that if it was labeled ‘Coleman’, we needed it.
Two hundred dollars and several angry Walmart employees later, we figured it was best that we leave, but it was still pouring, and as far as our little iPhones could tell us, there was no end in sight.
FUKIT. We drove back down the hill and had Margaritas at Amanda’s Fonda in Manitou. Thankfully, the incessant downpour let up just as we finished dinner and granted us enough time to get back up the hill and into our tent for the evening, but that was it. As soon as we were safely zipped up, all hell broke loose and the sky let us have it. Non stop downpour for the rest of the night.
We gave thanks for the waterproof tent and tarp and decided to turn in. Unfortunately, the batteries in radio lantern and the flashlights we had brought were all dead. I’m not kidding - we didn’t check them before we left. It’s what happens when you try to prepare for camping with two toddlers attached to your legs.
I turned the flashlight on the iphone, found the toiletry bag, shut the iPhone light off, and rummaged around inside until I found the toothbrushes and what I thought was a tube of toothpaste. I quickly squeezed some out onto both of our brushes and handed Aaron’s toothbrush to him.
As soon as I started to brush my teeth, I knew something was wrong. For one thing, the toothpaste tasted awful - a sort of nasty chemical taste. However, the taste quickly became secondary to the fact that my tongue was going numb.
From across the tent, I heard Aaron make an odd noise. Apparently he wasn’t having a good time with his ‘toothpaste’ either.
What was going on? What had I put on my toothbrush???
Quickly, I fumbled in the darkness for the iPhone. Finding it, I turned it on and shined a light onto the tube of toothpaste.
Hey guess what?
It wasn’t toothpaste. No sir, not toothpaste at all.
1. When camping in Colorado, do not eff around with forecasts that include ‘isolated thunderstorms’. If you see that - stay home, or get a hotel room.
2. In the dark, a tube of Vagisil and a travel sized tube of toothpaste feel exactly the same. Unless you want to end up with numbtongue do not, I repeat, do NOT keep them in the same bag.
How sore do you think a fairly fit 40 year old mother of three is after backpacking and mountain climbing?
Oh I'm not so sore. I can still...
*starts moving a little*
I'VE BEEN HIT BY A TRUCK
In fact, it would not be a stretch to say that my calves were on fire, my quads screamed f*ck you! every time I tried to go down stairs, and I waddled around like an 80 year old woman needing a hip replacement for 3 days.
How brutal was this little walk in the woods, you ask? Well….
The trail itself is 8 miles roundtrip. You start out at 9,650 ft. and climb over 4,500 ft. to summit at 14,197 ft. It is STRAIGHT UP and then STRAIGHT down. My crazy friend Julie (yes, that is her name. I can’t remember if her friends gave it to her or she gave it to herself) thought it would be fun to camp overnight at treeline - about 11,000 ft. At the trailhead, she straps a 30 pound pack to my back and points me up the mountain. The pack was so heavy and the grade was so steep that I found myself doing the ‘weevils wobble but they don’t fall down’ dance all the way up the trail. When we stopped, I had to lean uphill to avoid being tipped over by my massively altered center of gravity, or prop Gigantor against a tree to alleviate some of the torture from my burning shoulders.
Did I mention it was raining?
It was pouring.
Thankfully I had brought a poncho, and it kept me dry...ish. Except for my lower legs and feet because I was silly enough to wear tennis shoes. Don't do that.
We slogged uphill in silent determination, slipping in the mud, teetering on slippery logs to cross raging mountain mini-waterfalls. WHAT WAS I DOING?!? I kept thinking. I’M NOT BEAR GRILLS!
When we finally made camp, it was still pouring. The mountain wasn’t kidding. Did you know that you can get hypothermia if you are wet and it is 50 degrees? I didn’t either. I DO NOW.
We set up the tents in the rain, and quickly realized that nobody in the group knew how to put together one of the tents! After a quick scramble, I found myself in crazy Julie’s tent, and Amy, my irstwhile tentmate disappeared to the other tent for the night. I won’t even go into how the rainfly was on upside-down, or that water was pouring through the tent like a river until we got that fixed.
I remember bitching and moaning because the electric wasn’t working in our pop-up trailer at the Grand Canyon last month, and how there was a leak in the water heater so we couldn’t have hot water in the trailer...HA. First world camping problems.
That night was, shall I say, one of the coziest I have had in my history. It is a good thing my crazy friend Julie is a GOOD friend, because the tent was tiny with a capital T. Actually, no. It’s tiny with a lowercase t because a capital T is too big for this tiny house. You couldn’t sit up straight. It was long enough for us to lie down and wide enough for two sleeping bags. Barely. It was too cold and too wet to cook dinner, so the menu for the night consisted of crispy M&Ms and nuts, and we were grateful.
The next morning, we were up at 3 a.m., on the trail by 4 a.m., and summited 14,197 ft. by 7 a.m. It was spectacular and brutal. Mt. Belford doesn’t require any technical climbing, but the trail is very steep, and it hurts as much (or more) going down as it does going up. We had the mountain to ourselves for the summit, and enjoyed top of the world views that I really can’t explain. You have to be there.
Was the pain and hassle worth it?
One hundred percent yes, and let me tell you why.
Going into the weekend I had anxiety of epic proportions. I think my husband was actually glad I was leaving because financially-threatened Sarah is no fun to live with. She’s a crabby bitch that can’t enjoy anything because she is obsessively mulling over what financial catastrophe may befall her. Nevermind that she is completely provided for at the moment - SOMETHING MAY HAPPEN BAD NEXT MONTH AND SHE MUST WORRY WORRY WORRY.
What you may not know is that I am in the midst of the scariest career transition of my life. I have moved from having the bulk of my income come from practicing medicine to the bulk of it come from writing, speaking, and media work. This would not be nearly as scary if I wasn’t the primary bread winner (I am), or if Aaron wasn’t going through a massive expansion that honestly I have no idea how we will fund (he is), but that is how our fates aligned. Both of us are feeling the winds of change at the same time and when I am doing well mentally, it is the most awesome roller coaster ride of my life, but when I am not doing well, it is a cesspool of anxiety, and like waves pounding on the shore, one confidence crisis after another.
I don’t do well with the unknown. Stepping away from the W-2 has been the scariest choice I have ever made. If you ever do it, BRACE YOURSELF, because personal doubt and growth will act synergistically and try to swallow you whole if you let them, which is what I was letting happen to me.
I wasn’t in a good mood when we left for the trip. I wasn’t in a good mood during most of the drive. And then the universe must have picked up on my sour mood because I manifested a speeding ticket in Jefferson County from the surliest sheriff I have ever met. UGH. I wasn’t in a good mood when we stopped for lunch in South Park (yes, it's a real place), or took a funny picture.
Thankfully, everything changed on that trail up to the campsite.
You see, when you are gasping for air (it’s a little thin up there), and every muscle is straining and burning, and you are focused on not falling into a stream, or you are counting the steps in your mind because that is ALL YOU CAN DO TO GET UP THE FUCKING MOUNTAIN, there is no room left in your conscious mind for anything else. Huffing and puffing, I burned every last drop of anxiety I had out on that mountain. I got angry. I cried. I gritted my teeth. I kept my mind focused on just getting to the next cairn and not rolling my ankles when my legs got weak and shaky. I tried not to be frustrated when I reached a summit and it turned out to be false - the summit teasing me from even further above. The trail snaked to dizzying heights above me that seemed impossible, so for the most part, I kept my head down and didn’t look up. One step after another, don’t focus on the immense task before you, just take the next step - that is how you climb a mountain.
As I climbed alone (Julie was either far behind or far ahead), I understood that this mountain was a metaphor for my career in so many ways. The path I have set before me is hard and the summit is far, far away. If I see how far it is, anxiety paralyzes me from taking action and I just want to quit. It’s too hard. It’s too big. But if I just focus on the next 5 steps, then I feel like I can accomplish that, and I move forward, and after 5 steps, just focus on the next 5 steps after that.
You see...in the past I have been a destination person. I could not relax into the journey because I was so focused on getting to the destination. Life has taught me that when you reach the destination, you die. Life is about enjoying the journey and embracing the adventure of uncertainly. In the words of Helen Keller, after all, life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.
If the trail ever leveled out enough so that I could catch my breath, anxious thoughts would immediately start to sneak in. I learned that all I had to do to quiet those voices in my head was to stop, take a breath, look behind me to see how far I have come, and enjoy the view.
Standing on that ancient, crumbling mountain reminded me how small I am, and how finite and temporary my problems really are. When we frame the situations of our life in this type of perspective, everything evens out, and we can move forward again.
So if you find yourself worrying about something in your life and you find you can’t stop, go climb a mountain.
I mean it, snickerdoodles. Doctor's orders.
Thank you to everyone who followed our summer trip. I have the best time planning vacations - I think I missed my calling! Here is the itinerary as promised - a couple of disclaimers - you need to be relatively fit to participate in all the activities, and you need to be OK with getting up SUPER EARLY some of the days so you can catch sunrises or beat the heat. Now go forth, and have adventures! If you do end up following this itinerary, let me know, and tell me how your trip was.
You may be wondering why I put this on a veterinarian website and my question back to you is - why not? I have a passion for travel, and I love to combine careers - so why not post it here? Work life balance is a big issue in our profession, and I would love to see more vets posting pictures from the parts of their life that doesn't revolve around veterinary medicine.
So here goes - the itinerary for the most epic southern utah grand canyon trip you will ever take - 8 parks, 2 weeks, no holds barred - HERE. WE. GO.
If you have a 4th grader, make sure to get your ‘every kid in a park’ pass - it'll save you $80!
Day 1: Travel day
This is a road trip. You need a camper of some variation, or a tent. Our trip started in Greeley, Colorado, but you can start this from anywhere. For now, I will pretend you are starting in Greeley.
Drive Greeley to Durango, stay in cheap hotel. Stretch your legs at the fun park on the river, and visit Ska Brewing for beer and street food. This brewery is very family friendly, the beer is good, and the food is cheap and good! There is an awesome outdoor area for kids to play and outdoor seating to relax and enjoy the food and view.
Day 2: Mesa Verde NP
Up and at em! Get up at 5:30 a.m., hit the free breakfast at the hotel at 6 a.m., and drive to Mesa Verde National Park. Several of the cliff houses are only accessible with rangers, the tours are popular, so you have to get in line early to score tickets. Be in line at 6:45 at the visitor’s center. We had wanted to go to Cliff Palace, but the tour we wanted was already sold out, so we opted for Balcony House instead. Allow 30-45 minutes of driving from the visitor center to the trailhead.
We were towing a camper and they don’t allow trailers up the road - too twisty! Fortunately there is a parking lot where you can leave your trailer right inside the park.
Balcony House is the Indiana Jones Tour of Mesa Verde and super fun for kids. You hike down a short trail and are first faced with a 30 foot ladder to climb up into the cliff dwelling. Then you must climb in and around the cliff dwellings to complete the tour, as well as crawl through a short tiny tunnel, climb two more 10 foot ladders, and then scale a vertical cliff face - don’t worry - there are chains to hold onto. It was SUPER fun and we loved it! If you aren’t into that much adventure, Cliff Palace is more sedate, but tickets are hard to come by and you still have to climb some ladders. The tour of Balcony House cost $25.
Next, we stopped at the Four Corners Monument to snap some photos and horse around. It is the mid-way point between Mesa Verde and the Grand Canyon. Personally, unless you really want a photo, skip this. It was $25 for a family of five, and it is distinctly underwhelming. Kinda a rip-off, if you ask me.
Roll into Grand Canyon around 5 p.m. and camp at Mather Campground inside Grand Canyon National Park on the South Rim. I highly recommend this campground because it is pretty and convenient. While it doesn’t qualify for glamping (there are no hookups and the only showers are pay showers - $2 for 8 minutes - are located right outside the campground at the bottom of the hill - it is quiet, wooded, beautiful, and the camping spots are spacious. It only fits small trailers and tents. We brought a generator and car batteries, so we had power the whole time, and filled our water tanks with potable water, which is located right next to the showers. There is a grocery store and general store very close to the campground - but it is best if you drive to it - you can get ice there. The firewood is a bit overpriced, I thought. $80 for 4 nights lodging- cheap.
There is a free shuttle that stops at the campground that will take you anywhere within the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that you want to go, which is nice because parking spots are difficult to come by. If you are going to stay here, get your reservations in early as it is popular.
PRO TIP: Grand Canyon is at elevation. It gets cold at night. Be prepared.
Sleep in and enjoy the quiet of the campground, and when you are ready, head over to Bright Angel Lodge for breakfast. I recommend riding the shuttle - but don’t catch it at the campground. Walk a short distance to the Shrine of the Ages and catch a shuttle headed west to Bright Angel. Bright Angel Restaurant serves up reasonably priced and SUPER HEARTY breakfast. $50 for a family of four - you will want to skip lunch. Enjoy the views of the canyon behind the lodge afterwards - they are stunning.
Catch the shuttle to the visitor’s center to look at the ranger led programs and get your bearings. There are tons of free ranger-led programs at the Grand Canyon, as well as an outstanding Hopi demonstration.
Walk to Mather Point, soak in the view, then walk along the rim to Yavapai Point and Geology Museum. Then, continue your Rim walk along the trail of time and walk to the Hopi House. Make sure to go in the Hopi House and window shop handmade wares from local tribes.
Afterwards, catch the 1 p.m. Hopi demonstration in front of the Hopi House. Indigenous dancing, singing, flute, and storytelling - it is MAGICAL. Don’t miss it! Also make sure to check out El Tovar Hotel, which is a historical lodge right next to the Hopi House.
While at the Grand Canyon, catching sunrises and sunsets are a must. Get up at 4:30 a.m. and drive to the visitor’s center. DO IT.
PRO TIP - there is a parking lot for buses behind the visitor’s center that has tons of parking and is closer to the canyon. Park there, and walk to Mather’s Point. Be prepared to jostle all the international visitors to get your perfect sunrise photo, and wear a jacket - it is chilly and windy.
After the sun rises, do a run or a walk along the rim from Mather’s Point to Bright Angel Lodge. It is a STUNNING run, there are elk, and you have the trail to yourself. It’s about 3 hilly miles, but the course is ultimately all downhill. Then stop in at the lodge and get a GIANT pastry and a coffee from the little coffeehouse as a reward, and sit out on the rim and soak in the views.
Afterward, we chose to chill out at the campground for the rest of the day, reading and playing games. You can also choose to ride the shuttle to any of the other viewpoints, catch ranger programs, or go to Hermit’s rest. We needed rest.
Day 5: Hike Into the Grand Canyon
Come on sleepy heads - get up early to beat the heat and hike down into the canyon! We drove to Bright Angel lodge and parked at the Bright Angel Trailhead - we were on the trail by 7 a.m. and hiked 1.5 miles down into the canyon to the first resthouse. It is 1,000 feet down to the rest house, and then you guessed it, 1,000 feet back up. The kids did great and loved the hike - you also get to see all the backpackers who are hiking the whole canyon and the mule trips down into the canyon.
Rest, chill out at the campground until the afternoon, then go catch the free 5 p.m. Condor talk - the talk is in between El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge on the rim at a little ampitheatre. The kids really enjoyed the talk and learned a lot. Afterwards, Aaron and I headed over to get drinks at El Tovar hotel - try to get a seat outside. The drinks aren’t anything to write home about, but the location and view can’t be beat.
Next, catch a shuttle up hermit’s road to Hopi Point for the most spectacular sunset you may ever see. After the sun sets, the shuttles stop running, so as soon as the sun sets, head to the left to catch a return shuttle to the campground.
PRO TIP: There are two California Condors that hang out around the Hopi House on the rim. If you are lucky like we were, you will get to see these rare and majestic creatures.
Day 6: Travel Day
First you must stop at Desert View on the way out of the park. It is an incredible piece of architecture, and the views. The views.
Then get on your way, and stop at Horseshoe Bend, which is about halfway between Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. Take water, and wear good shoes - it is well worth the walk up and over the hill to see the natural wonder that is Horseshoe Bend, but it is HOT HOT HOT.
Stop at Glazier’s market in Kanab for groceries. A little pricey, but a cool little market and local business, and after your 4 days in Grand Canyon you likely will need some groceries.
Next, make sure to stop at Thunderbird’s in Mt. Carmel Junction for pie. It is a nice break, the place has the coolest back story and still family run, and the pie is yummy. I recommend the chocolate cream or the hot apple pie with caramel rum sauce. I love supporting local businesses, especially ones as cool as this. $30 for pie for 5.
Check into Ruby’s RV park and campground just outside Bryce Canyon late afternoon. We had electric and water and the site was spacious and wooded and looked out over a lake. So pretty. It is a short walk to the bathrooms and showers, and there is a pool which we took full advantage. There is a free shuttle into the park that stops at the campground - so convenient! $200 for 4 nights lodging. Also - great laundry facilities. Do your laundry here.
Day 7: Bryce Canyon
Sleep in a little, and then ride the free shuttle into Bryce Canyon National Park. Stop at the visitor’s center for information and your passport stamp (those are fun to collect!), then ride the shuttle up to Bryce Point. Get out and take in the views - SUCH VIEWS!! Hike the rim to Inspiration Point for views and to stretch your legs. Then, hop on the shuttle and ride it to sunrise point and hike the Queen’s Garden-Navajo Loop trail down into the canyon for mind-blowing hoodoo experiences. Be ready to do some serious climbing, and bring water - this trail is marked as strenuous but so, so worth it. Our kids did fine - you come out at sunset point - at which point you can walk over to the general store and enjoy some well-deserved soft serve ice cream for the kids and local beers for the adults, and enjoy everything out on the patio. We recommend Wasatch Polygamy Porter.
Day 8: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Originally we had planned doing some slot canyoneering on Hole in the Rock road - Peek-a-boo gulch and spooky Gulch - however the weather did not cooperate. Instead, we did Willis Creek - a 2 mile family-friendly river walk that encompasses 5 slot canyons! We had lunch at Circle D Eatery - which was highly recommended but just meh - $50 for a family of 5 to have burgers. Meh.
In the afternoon, we had the most spectacular hike - Lower Calf Creek Falls. Originally I hadn’t planned it because I thought it would be too strenuous for the kids, but they did great. It is 6 mile sandy loop trail up a riparian corridor - an oasis in the desert. Along the way you will see beautiful red rock formations, petroglyphs, cliff dwelling ruins, huge sandstone cliffs, and at the end you are rewarded with the most beautiful 130 foot waterfall!! Best of all - you can swim in the waterfall pool, so bring your swim trunks. The kids can play in the sand, slide down the slick rock, explore the pool, etc. It is a great place to linger, but don’t forget you have 3 sandy miles to hike back.
PRO TIP: Ask the camp host at the trailhead for the trail guide - there are markers along the trail that point out cool things.
Day 9: Kodachrome State Park
Sleep in - after hiking 8 miles yesterday, you deserve it! If it is not too hot, head to Kodachrome State Park for some red cliffs and solitude. I recommend the grand parade trail and Angel’s Palace. Angel’s Palace is not very kid friendly - there are some pretty steep cliffs!
You have GOT to do a sunset at Bryce Canyon. We drove to Bryce Point for sunset - just magnificent. After the sun sets, drive to Paria View, bring a blanket, a star chart, and some snacks for some of the best star gazing you may ever experience. There is a little bench halfway down the paved area that is perfect. If the moon is bright don’t despair - the moonlight on the white cliffs is mesmerizing.
Day 10: Travel Day
Plan your route to go through Capitol Reef National Park. As you drive, admire the crumbling red cliffs. Stop at the historic Gifford House in Fruita for PIE. Fresh every day, their pies are cute and delicious. Their fruit pies are to die for - just don’t get 5 pies, like we did. Too. Much. $30 for pie, and $8 for cherry butter (worth it!), and you can eat outside under a shade tree.
Check in to the Canyonlands RV Park in Moab in the afternoon. This RV park can only accommodate smaller rigs, has water and electric, a pool, and a sweet little creek area for cooling off - very necessary because Moab is HOT. HOT HOT HOT. They also sell ice, have free showers, and nice bathrooms. There are no fire rings at the RV sites - so plan accordingly. You can also tent camp. Honestly, by the time we hit Moab, we were all camp fired out. $200 for 4 nights lodging. One of the coolest things about this campground is that it is filled with adventure seekers - hikers, mountain bikers, everybody is there for desert fun.
You will likely be too tired and hot to cook dinner, so why not try the local restaurants? We ate at the Moab Brewery and Fiesta Mexicana. Both were GREAT - Moab Brewery has awesome beer and small plates, and Fiesta Mexicana has great service, a patio with MISTERS, and the best margaritas in town. Yum. Both reasonably priced, and ok with tired, dirty campers.
Day 11: Arches National Park
Set your alarm for 4:30 a.m. because you want to catch the sunrise at delicate arch. It is TOTALLY WORTH IT. The Delicate Arch hike is 3 miles round trip and is marked as ‘strenuous’ for good reason. There is no shade, so you want to be off this trail before the sun is high in the sky, but my oh my, to catch sunrise on the arch is magic. DO IT. On the way back, take the side trail to see some awesome Ute petroglyphs.
After, catch some more arches - landscape arch, double arch, and balanced rock are all short and easy. You can be done before 8 a.m. and head back into town for muffins and coffee at Love Muffin Cafe (a little pricey - $30 for 3 coffees and 4 muffins). We didn’t get a chance to get tickets for the fiery furnace, but if you can get tickets, the fiery furnace is supposed to be amazing.
After, you can hit slickrock or Bar M trailhead for world class mountain biking. We did Bar M - truly amazing.
The rest of the day we chilled out at the campground, swimming, BBQ at the pool, and card games.
Day 12: River Rafting
Sleep in - you will need your energy. After breakfast, go to Moab Adventure center to check in for river rafting and get your life jacket. After a wild bus ride up the canyon, be prepared for a super fun day on the Colorado River with a delicious BBQ lunch (included), Class 3 rapids, and fun water wars. This was the highlight of the trip for the kids. $270 for 5 people.
Day 13: Canyonlands and Jeeping
Canyonlands NP is about 30 miles from Moab, so to catch sunrise you are going to have to be an early bird. We got up at 4 a.m. and caught sunrise at Mesa Arch. Absolutely spectacular! Canyonlands is special in that it is completely devoid of people - if you ever want to have a NP to yourself, come here. We also hiked up Whale Rock for some slick rock fun and amazing views of Island in the Sky, and stopped and snapped a pic at Grandview.
On the way back, stop and get coffee from Moab Roasters - you are going to need it.
If you have followed this far, then you can’t miss a Jeep Tour with Dan Micks - the original pioneer of slick rock jeeping in Moab. This tour is the real deal - all the other companies go around the obstacles, Dan Micks goes OVER them. This is pee in your pants scary - not for the faint of heart! The jeeps defy gravity. Our driver was a sweet Mormon man who played Disney karaoke with the kids for an hour and drove like a bat out of hell. God bless him...and his seven sisters (not kidding). The kids LOVED LOVED LOVED this, and if you are in Moab, this is a can’t miss experience. It’s pricey tho - $500 with tip for a 3 hour tour....a 3 hour tour.