My sister and I can’t get enough of the campfire smells, the 8-mile climbs, and the “No Service” dead zones while we’re on vacation in the wilderness.
As long-time readers will recall, we visited Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, and the Pacific Coast Highway in California last year. Then there’s the one where she included a recipe for quick camping ramen and some old family photos that highlight the earliest roots of our “outdoorsy” proclivities in our family.
Traveling to the West, renting a car, and seeing our country’s national parks has become our go-to vacation approach of late, so it should be no surprise that we’ve adopted this technique. The stench of “hot trash” on your walk to work in New York City becomes so commonplace that you don’t even notice it––and you can’t remember the last time you saw an animal that wasn’t a pigeon or a rat in its natural habitat.
The best location to go on vacation when you live in a place like that is Utah.
A vast territory tucked between Nevada and Arizona may conjure images of Mormon pioneers and skiing if you’re from the East Coast. A lot more goes on than what we’ve only seen so far.
When my closest buddy and I decided to fly to Utah a few weeks ago, we did so after careful planning. We decided to visit Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante (say it five times fast), Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks.
And it was incredible.
If you’ve never been to Utah, I can’t say enough good things about the state to convince you to visit. A week in March, Kaitlin and I spent there, and it was one of our most memorable vacations ever. Here are a few more reasons:
No, the Utah Office of Tourism did not persuade me to say any of the above. As well Utah–is LIFE ELEVATED in Utah.
Moreover, their tourist website is one of the most useful ever––like actual real specifics on where to go, which hikes to do, how to reach certain trailheads and loads of other information that my Type-A brain in trip-planning mode instantly copied and pasted into her “Utah Trip” Google Doc. #nerd.
We’re going to break up our trip into three sections, one for each of the three major parks: Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Zion, as you can tell from my excitement. We’ll post new installments of this series on Mondays until the third week of April.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m starting. We went to Bryce Canyon with this.
Bryce Canyon first came to my attention when my father and a friend of his, Mitch, a former coworker turned hiking and camping companion, went on a camping vacation to Utah when I was a young child. My parents, sister, and I (all of us around the age of eight or nine) stayed at home, but I recall my father waxing lyrical about the trip when he returned.
This Bryce Canyon was a destination I wanted to see for myself now that I had a travel rewards credit card.
By early Saturday morning, we had arrived in Las Vegas and were stocking up on supplies at Trader Joe’s for our camping trip. The Trader Joe’s in Henderson, Nevada, took a lot longer than it should have to get through all the aisles.
After an hour, one of the workers at the market asked, “YOU guys are still here?” as we debated whether to buy two bags of Tuscan kale.
We’re concerned about what we eat. Camping is an excellent time for this. We spend hours debating the relative virtues of chicken and pork as protein sources. Guys, this is a big deal.
But after that, we were on our way to Bryce Canyon.
At around 4:30 p.m., we arrived at the park’s entrance.
We could see for miles, and the sun wouldn’t set until 7:30 p.m., so we drove straight to the canyon. After spotting some “Sunset Point” placards, we went into the parking area.
The location didn’t look particularly interesting when viewed from the parking lot. The canyon was hidden behind a thicket, making it difficult to see. The signs directed us to follow them, so we exited our vehicle and headed in that direction. It was one of those exhilarating feelings you get when you know you’re about to witness something spectacular.
This will be a great time, and my friend even stated, “I can feel it.”
And the canyon lived up to its billing.
Temperatures hovered about 60-65 degrees F, but the snow in the canyon remained stark against the vivid orange sandstone and evergreen trees that lined the canyon floor.
We walked along the “Rim Trail”––a path that runs along the canyon’s rim––for about 20 minutes before deciding to go for a bit of trek.
From Sunset Point, you may descend into the canyon and return to Sunrise Point by hiking back up the canyon. That sounded reasonable enough.
We took the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop trail, one of the park’s most popular trails.
While hiking in Utah, we encountered several switchbacks, which we found fascinating and challenging.
Also, I gawked at everything.
If you descend into a canyon, you must ascend out of it.
When you’re used to the flat sidewalks of New York City and haven’t done any pre-flight workouts, it was a bit of a challenge for two folks who hadn’t done any training at all before the journey. The events depicted in the following story are based on real-life occurrences.
It’s possible to walk on dirt in certain portions of the route, but in others, you’ll have to hopscotch through rocks to avoid getting your boots wet since the canyon walls rise high above you, making it challenging to keep your feet dry.
That was a lot of fun.
Even though it took some time, we eventually found the “hidden place” that the person at the visitor center had mentioned. Whether or not we had arrived at the trailhead he had been discussing caused some misunderstanding.
The intersection of Willis Creek and Sheep Creek, around 2 to 2 1/2 miles into the trail, was marked with a small trail marker and a hazy walkway.
Visitors had left names, messages, and the number of years they had been there on a granite wall. We found a closed box with a notepad inside, despite the fact that carving your name into a rock in an area where you’re meant to “leave no trace” is maybe not the best idea.
We walked back to the car. It was a little more than 4 miles one way. Even on Day 2 of our Utah vacation, this was a standout moment.
We turned around and returned home via Skutumpah Road…
BACK ON THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
Kodachrome Basin State Park was the next stop on the itinerary after that.
The visitor center was our first port of call (we are big fans of visitor centers). My sister and I went to get some maps and information, and we also got some trekking ideas from the locals. Two raises were on the agenda. The Angel’s Palace Trail was the first.
We exaggerated when we mentioned how easy it was to find your way around the route. Although there were many minor signs with arrows on them, we quickly lost our way back due to the vast expanse of various, but very similar, rock forms and sand. There were only a few RVs at the campsite below, and no one else saves rangers in the visitor center, so the hike was virtually deserted.
Because of our ill luck, it is evident that we had cursed ourselves. However, we eventually worked it out and returned to the parking lot.
There was a small path to the Shakespeare Arch, which was quite fragile. We’re pleased to say we didn’t get lost on that one.
Phew. It was a long day, to put it mildly.
It was understandable that we were exhausted after what turned out to be around 8 miles of hiking/walking and a lot of driving. In addition to that, they need food.
Moreover, I am not ashamed to admit that we dined at a buffet on that particular evening. A buffet that is. It’s not the most luxurious or highly regarded one. That whole “cowboy in rocky canyon” kitsch aspect was played up quite shamelessly.
But. This menu includes everything from steaks to chicken to salmon to mashed potatoes with gravy to all the above. If you can have them all, why not?
What’s the topic for the next installment? The rest of Highway 12 and the Grand Staircase and stops at Capitol Reef National Park and a campfire were built using tree branches instead of chopsticks because we’re a bunch of snobs from China.