In 2013 a cross country road trip took some friends and I through Utah, the beehive state! Ever since witnessing how rugged and geographically diverse it was I’ve been itching to go back. Three distinct geological regions converge here: the Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau. For this January trip we’d stick to the southwest where the Great Basin meets the Colorado Plateau creating some epic terrain!
My lovely girlfriend and I would fly into Las Vegas, rent a car and stay our first night with my Godmother/Aunt in Mesquite, Nevada. It didn’t take long to grasp the beauty of the southwest as the sun began to set just before touching down.
We really enjoyed spending time with my wonderful Godmother but after breakfast we were off to Zion! The view of the Pine Valley Mountains from St. George already had us drooling.
Close to Zion we’d pass through Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest.
It’s like a mini Bryce Canyon with unique vermilion-colored rock formations and stands of Ponderosa Pines!
From there we slowly worked our way through the Springdale construction until arriving at Zion National Park! In Arabic Zion means “the Holy Sanctuary” and that’s exactly how it felt.
Normally we enjoy roughing it but since we were celebrating our one year anniversary of dating we choose to stay at the Zion Lodge!
We felt super fancy having a bed, shower and an electric fireplace but as soon as we checked in we left our cabin for a sunset hike up Angel’s Landing! This was the hike we were most excited about. It’s 5.4 miles round trip gaining 1,500ft. As we started we were scratching our heads wondering how we’d get on top of that toothy sandstone wall.
The path starts out nice and wide until entering Refrigerator Canyon where it’s cool and shaded.
From there we worked our way up Walter’s Wiggles. Definitely calling switchbacks wiggles from now on.
After 21 wiggles we stood at Scout’s Lookout with our first view around the bend.
You can’t be afraid of heights for the next half mile. With the assistance of chains you’ll climb the knife edge ridgeline with a 500 foot drop off on both sides. A sign states that there have been six deaths since 2004 so we were methodical with every step.
The canyon view right before it gets wicked is not too shabby.
At the top it was easy to see why someone would think only an angel could land here.
To the north was the Organ, Echo Canyon and a look into the Narrows.
To the south was an incredible look down Zion Canyon with the likes of Mount Zion, Mountain of the Sun and the Watchman!
What a place to rest and have a snack! We spent about an hour staring at the enchanted canyon waiting for sunset.
We didn’t want to climb down the spine of the landing in the dark so as soon as the sun started to set we slowly worked our way back. It was certainly a sunset to remember!
Going down forces you to look down. Yikes!
Once it became dark we were guided by an angel’s light also known as a headlamp. After making it down safely we decided to indulge in the hospitality of the Lodge’s Grill. We refueled the tanks and had a few snazzy drinks before we were off to bed in an actual bed. That’s a first in a National Park for me! In the morning we caught sunrise from the Canyon Junction.
Here lies the famous view of the Watchman and the North Fork of the Virgin River which carved this sublime red rock canyon.
After light touched the canyon we went back to the Lodge for our complimentary breakfast buffet! There were some cranky neighbors (turkeys).
After eating too much we took the Riverside Walk to the iconic Narrows.
We didn’t have the proper gear so we only saw a sliver of it but we’ll be back for more. Driving around the Big Bend showcases all kinds of beauty.
Hello Great White Thrown, the Organ and Angel’s Landing!
Our next hike was to Hidden Canyon along the East Rim Trail. It’s short and steep with some more long drop offs.
After shuffling around a cliff face we entered a narrow canyon with all kinds of interesting geology.
It made me think of ancient cliff dwellers.
Once we reached a natural arch we retraced our steps back to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
This perspective of Angel’s Landing may have been my favorite. If we continued up the East Rim we’d find Observation Point. I need to get that perspective too but a nagging knee injury kept us on the short stuff.
This day was our actual Anniversary so we’d go back into town that night for a lovely dinner at the only restaurant open.
We played some pool, had some tacos and reminisced on an incredible year together! I love this adventurous babe!
After another good sleep and complimentary breakfast we took off towards Bryce Canyon National Park only 2 hours away. I hope to revisit Zion soon for Kolob Canyon, the Subway and much more.
On our way out we couldn’t help but make a lot of stops. How could you pass the Three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob without a quick stare?
On the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway we witnessed the Towers of the Virgin and the really cool cross-hatching on Checkerboard Mesa.
As we approached Bryce Canyon I went through many different emotions. I was anxious, excited and overjoyed about visiting my 30th National Park! All 30 parks have validated my dream and left me feening to see the next 29! There’s just something about the National Park’s that give me the up most clarity with my thoughts. Happy as can be we picked out a campsite in the North Campground. We’d be one of very few people who’d be spending the night in the snowy cold. During the day it was nice and warm so we quickly got up in it!
Looking down on the Bryce Amphitheaters from the 8,000ft rim had a Grand Canyon like feel. What makes Bryce Canyon unique is its massive collection of tall, thin spires of rock called Hoodoos. At the Visitor Center we learned there are hoodoos on every continent but Bryce has the largest group in the World! Every step along the rim offers an amazing view but to really appreciate the odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion you have to hike into the canyon.
We took the Navajo Loop connecting with the Queens Garden Loop. Our micro spikes allowed us to hike on the snow, ice and mud with ease. Wall Street, a steep section of the trail, was closed for the winter so we took it in from a little window in the rocks before heading down.
The snow provided an excellent contrast to the red and orange rock formations.
One of the most notable hoodoos is Thor’s Hammer.
The term hoodoo is funny enough but some people call these totem pole shaped rocks fairy chimneys or earth pyramids.
At the floor we walked past numerous Ponderosa Pines before reaching Queens Garden.
From here we started working our way back up to the rim towards Sunrise Point. There are a few sections where you’ll hike through some hoodoos.
In every direction was a totally distinct view.
I loved the snow coated sandstone!
Sunrise Point offered an exceptional view highlighting a single Ponderosa Pine.
I could have spent hours at each stop zooming in on different formations.
Eventually we finished the loop following the rim to our car and decided to scope out the other named overlooks to choose our future sunset and sunrise spots. The first stop was Inspiration Point. We were quite inspired to say the least.
Next was Bryce Point where Ebenezer Bryce first witnessed the amphitheaters before settling here and claiming it to be a “helluva place to lose a cow.”
This provided the widest sweeping view of Hoodooville. We were blown away figuratively and literally by the cool wind. We ended up deciding the best place to watch sunset was you guessed it Sunset Point. We would go back and forth between warming up in the car and taking pictures from the rim.
Darkness slowly began to creep up on the hoodoos.
As the sun started to fall from the sky we chatted with a cool couple from Salt Lake City who recently got married in Glacier National Park! It was fun to talk with other park lovers and the sunset wasn’t too bad either.
Far in the distance is the highest peak in the Navajo Nation, Navajo Mountain! It has a special cultural significance to the Navajo people, who know it as Naatsisʼáán or Earth Head.
Blue hour was really pretty too!
Once there was no more light we drove just outside the park to a little hotel for some hot food and warmth. Soon after we hopped in our cozy tent ready for sleep. It got down into the teens that night but it didn’t feel as cold as Crater Lake because of the humidity I assume. It wasn’t the best sleep but we still got up early to catch sunrise from Sunrise Point. We hiked down into the canyon a little bit for a different perspective. We chilled on a hoodoo couch while we waited.
The first light on the hoodoos was magical! It was like a glowing fire.
We hiked around and took it in as long as we could until saying our goodbyes.
Bryce Canyon National Park will always have a special place in my heart as it marks the half way point to my dream goal in visiting the 59 US National Parks! We were in a stellar mood! We wanted to explore Cedar Breaks National Monument but it was closed so instead we detoured for the Kayenta Art Village just northwest of St. George, Utah. It was exceptionally beautiful with the Red Mountains towering almost 5,000ft overhead.
For lunch Ellie suggested a place called Xetava Gardens Cafe. She’d enjoyed it before with her best friend who lived in St. George and it lived up to all the hype! For the drive back to Mesquite, Nevada we took Old Highway 91 passing through the Shivwits Band of the Paiute Tribe and Joshua Tree National Landmark within the Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Area! It’s the only Joshua Tree Forest in Utah and the northernmost stand of yucca trees in the US.
We spent the rest of the day with my awesome Aunt in Mesquite who was very generous in accommodating us! If you’re ever in Mesquite go gamble and check out the Rising Star Sports Ranch. Ellie’s birthday was the next day but she had to fly to Denver for a work conference at 8am so we celebrated her as much as possible before the early morning drive to Vegas. My flight back to Seattle wasn’t until the following day so I was able to see some more family that lived nearby Kingman, Arizona!
We met in Boulder City, Nevada for breakfast at a famous diner called Cup of Coffee. It was great to see my intelligent cousin before she drove back to Reno for her Teach For America job. When she left my Uncle jumped in my rental car and we took off towards Lake Mead. The North Shore Drive in Lake Mead National Recreation Area had stunning views over the lake and surrounding mountains.
Apparently the weight of all the water in Lake Mead is more than the total weight of all humans on Earth! With major drought and increased water demand that’s hard to believe. As we drove east we saw some incredibly diverse landscapes. Around every corner was a different terrain, vegetation and rock formations.
Our stopping point was Redstone which is made up of ancient red sandstone outcrops that were formed during the Jurassic Age. In the backdrop were mountains of volcanic rock and limestone.
I agree with my Uncle who thinks aliens formed these rocks by building condos.
From there we drove towards Kingman, Arizona crossing over the Hoover Dam and the Colorado River. Never realized how mountainous this area was.
My Uncle and Aunt had recently moved from northern Michigan. They picked a really great place! Before seeing their house we drove south of Kingman into the Hualapai Mountains. I tried to tell my uncle about this place but I was butchering the name. Little did I know that’s where he wanted to take me! It’s a gorgeous mountain range covered in Ponderosa Pines and wildlife.
After a great hike and a long day their guest bed was calling my name. Their place is on the edge of the grid in a wonderful little community. They share a well with a few other homes and cattle, wild horses and countless other creatures roam free. In the morning I hiked the small mountain in their backyard and severely regretted not bringing my camera or phone because it was something special. Coyotes howled while I took in the 360° view of plains completely surrounded by different mountain ranges. What I did capture was some of the wildlife!
Quail and Doves flew around the house and on our way to Vock Canyon we ran into a neighbor taking his burrow for a walk.
Vock Canyon was a desert paradise.
With lots of cacti we had to be careful of where we stepped. It’s also easy to get lost but the washes make for great trails.
In late June Arizona experiences a monsoon season that brings heavy rainfall in bursts causing major flooding which creates the washes we walked on. After a little hike we went north passing Arizona’s Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree Forest.
Behind the dense forest of Yucca Trees is the Grand Wash Cliffs. Just beyond those cliffs is the Grand Canyon.
As we left we talked about wildlife we’d encountered. I mentioned I’d never seen an owl in the wild and 10 minutes later a Great Horned Owl flew across the road and landed in a Joshua Tree.
The 360° head turn is nuts!
We’d continue north past the city of Meadview which had a great view of Lake Mead as you could imagine.
Further north we took a dirt road that dead ended at the Colorado River and the western terminus of the Grand Canyon.
There was some extra nostalgia riding in a Jeep Cherokee my Dad sold 20 years ago.
After soaking it all in we headed back towards Kingman running into a Golden Eagle, an Osprey, an ornery Bull and some cool looking ducks at the South Cove of Lake Mead.
It was a wildlife kind of day! The best wildlife was defiantly my Uncle’s sweet pups!
For diner I was blessed with some surf and turf before hitting the road to Vegas. It was a late night getting back to Seattle but that gave me time to think about how grateful I am for my family and the awesome places they live! I’ll be back to the southwest soon and heck I may retire here one day. Buh bye.