Utah is a land of many wonders, and so although we were sad to leave Moab and our friends, we were excited to check out more National Parks in the state. We headed west and arrived at Canyonlands National Park after dark, so we quickly set up camp and headed to bed. The next morning we drove through some of the scenic areas and parked at a trailhead where we made breakfast and enjoyed the sunshine. As we were sitting there quietly drinking our coffee I heard the unmistakable revving of engines in duress, and I looked up to see some awesome Jeep off-roaders heading up the cliff side. Canyonlands is one of the few National Parks that allows this kind of activity, and it was fun to watch these little vehicles with giant tires navigate rocky paths and boulders while driving at 70-degree angles. After breakfast we took a little stroll with Zephyr to check out some “pothole communities,” which are little holes in the rock that fill up with water in the rainy season and allow strange creatures to thrive. Unfortunately all of the potholes were dry, but we enjoyed the surrounding red rock “needles” and the fresh air.
After leaving Canyonlands we continued to head southwest through Utah. The geology of this mostly uninhabited region of the United States is phenomenal. We wished multiple times that we had a magic lamp we could rub to summon my geologist stepfather Dale, so we could learn about these amazing formations. The next National Park we hit was Capitol Reef, a park I had never even heard of before we arrived. It is a small park with similar geology to Canyonlands, but through the center of the canyon is a small river that provides enough water for an orchard and homestead that pioneer Mormons established back in the day. We camped near the orchards, but were disappointed that the fruit trees were done producing for the season. Apparently if you arrive at the right time you are free to go collect as much fruit as you want!
Up next in Utah was Bryce Canyon, which now sits at the top of my list of most beautiful places visited on this trip. We arrived thinking we would just do the usual drive through, but Ranger Kevin in the visitor center advised us that Bryce Canyon has the “best three-mile hike in the world.” It is even printed on their map as such, and so we felt compelled to check it out. We left Zephyr in the truck (with a silent prayer that he stays put), and gave ourselves a goal of finishing the hike in one hour and 15 minutes. We managed to meet this goal, despite stopping a million times to take photographs of the wondrous rock formations. At one point on the trail we discovered a Cairn forest, and of course we built our own Cairns to leave our temporary mark on this wonderful hike. (If you don’t know what a Cairn is, see the photo below.) We hurried back to the visitor center to thank Ranger Kevin and we had to concur: so far that was definitely the best three-mile hike we have ever been on!
I was sad to leave Bryce, but the call of Zion was strong, and so we headed even further west to this famous site. Several times as we drove through Utah and visited its marvels I thought to myself, I can see why the Mormons settled here! Coming across the plains in a covered wagon and stumbling into this wild land with its enormous, balancing red rocks, spires, and arches, it’s no wonder they thought this was sacred land! Of course this land was sacred to the native peoples well before the Mormons arrived, and I am happy to add myself to the long list of people who find wonder, awe, and inspiration in this amazing place.
When we arrived at Zion I immediately compared it to Bryce Canyon. Zion is huge, incredibly developed, and immensely popular, while Bryce allows more of a feeling of new discovery to the visitor. Initially I was dubious about Zion’s merits, especially since the campground we pulled into was crowded, unimpressive, and expensive. The night was cold and wet, and I had a hard time sleeping with the howling wind and fat raindrops beating on the teardrop. The next morning we awoke early and drove to a trailhead for a hike Andrew was determined to accomplish. Initially I was worried about leaving Zephyr in the truck for so long, since the hike was a steep and difficult 5.4 miles. Fortunately the weather was miserable, and so we were confident Zephyr would be more than happy in his warm truck house for several hours.
We headed up the trail to Angel’s Landing in the cold drizzle, which involved many switchbacks and steep hills. After a few hours of climbing, we arrived at a point where you basically scramble up boulders while clinging to chains that have been installed “for safety.” The chains were wet, cold, and slippery, and I had to wear my mittens to keep the blood flowing to my fingers. We finally arrived at the top, and were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the immense valley that was carved eons ago by the beautiful Virgin River. As we sat amazed and stupefied by the scenery, the skies opened and hail began to fall. We made a hasty retreat back down the rocks, mumbling curses as large hailstones made contact with our heads. The hike back down was hard on the knees, but we were smart enough to bring our hiking poles, which definitely helped. Despite being good planners and having our raincoats on, I had stubbornly worn my jeans and suffered for it. By the time we arrived back at the truck we were soaked and cold to the bone.
We did a quick clothing change in the parking lot as one lone thunderclap exploded overhead. I was grateful we had safely descended before the weather became dangerous. As we hiked down we saw many people just starting their ascent, including a group of teenagers hiking in cotton sweatshirts and tennis shoes. I crossed my fingers that they were smart enough to know when to turn back. As we piled into the truck we said hello to Zephyr, who (as predicted), had enjoyed a nice warm nap. We blasted the heater in an attempt to warm our bodies to a temperature that matched our exhilarated spirits, and then headed out of Utah and towards the Grand Canyon.