Since returning to the states a few months ago, I’ve been very excited to start exploring my own country once again. After almost three years of not seeing any new US areas, it was time to have an adventure.
I’ve wanted to explore the western states for quite a while now. I’ve even had quasi-plans that were scrapped twice…much to my chagrin. So in early June, I was finally off to Utah!
The journey began in Salt Lake City. Overlooking a hiccough or two with the rental car, the first stop turned out to be amazing.
The altitude change, combined with pretty high temperatures equaled slow and steady movements. But hey, I was on a nice long vacation, so I was in no mindset to be rushed anyway.
The first order of business was to go visit the capital. The visitor’s center and gift shop was just across the street from the capital building. It provided a place to park as well as a great spot to capture a beautiful picture.
The capital was really neat and there were many things to read which discussed the state history, its founders and cultural icons like the infamous beehives you tend to see everywhere.
After lunch at the amazing French bistro “Gourmandise,” (which I highly recommend, if you are in the neighborhood!) it was time to leave the car at the hotel and set out walking. There was talk of seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse, so I couldn’t pass that up. The world-famous choir group was about to go on tour and they just happened to rehearse on Thursdays. I took that as a moment of serendipity and sought them out. Naturally, they sounded amazing, especially with the accompaniment of the orchestra.
After briefly seeing the choir, I was able to look around the amazing Temple Square. It encompasses 35 acres, which contains beautiful buildings, museums and libraries, including the Family History Library, which houses the largest genealogical collection in the world.
This was a big day for me. Having only been to the rocky west for a very brief trip to the Grand Canyon years ago, I was itching to see some larger-than life rocky formations once again.
The drive to Bryce Canyon National Park was really pretty. It was cool to see the terrain start to change from the city to the outskirts to red rocks as I traveled south. At one point the road takes you through an arch on your way to the park.
Once inside, the trails are easily marked and many beautiful sights are just outside the parking areas and turnoffs. After a few minutes of hiking, the amazing hoodoos emerge, leaving you breathless for a few minutes.
Many countries were represented, zillions of photos were being taken, but everyone seemed to briefly sand in awe before the cameras came out, because no matter how amazing technology becomes, it can never replace the sensation of standing before the majestic view in person.
Instead of taking the interstate east across Utah, toward Moab, scenic byway Rt. 12 was used instead…and that was an amazing choice. Did it add a little time to the day’s journey? Yes. But did it offer breathtaking mountain views and multiple areas to pull off for photos? Um…most definitely!
With the purpose of the day being the arrival in Moab, the scenic byway was the most beautiful way to get there.
The unexpected enjoyment of seeing Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park was a wonderful addition to an already beautiful trip.
After arriving in the town and setting up the campsite, it was time to explore on foot. Moab feels like a beach town without the beach. It’s super cute, walkable, with more than enough shops, restaurants and cafes of every kind, not to mention every kind of adventure activity available. It was great to get some ideas for what to include for the following day.
In the morning I went to the northern part of Canyonlands National Park. Once again, it was easy to drive around the park and pull off to explore great vistas and trails. Each sweeping view was better than the one before with pull-offs every few minutes.
With much of Canyonlands being inaccessible by car, I was content with touring the northern part and then heading back to town for another adventure.
Raven’s Rim zip line adventure was next on the list for the afternoon. I met up with a handful of other people scheduled for the same tour. The guides took us on a 30-minute off-roading excursion to get to the first line. (I think I screamed more during that part than during the zip lining part! It was awesome!)
Once at the top of the rocks, the lines extended out over huge cliffs and valleys. Of the six lines, two of them ran for over a quarter-mile, and in the middle of the trek, we had to cross a very flexible swinging bridge.
It was a great day of scenic beauty and adrenaline.
This was the day to see Arches National Park. This park is very close to the town of Moab and easy to travel around. There’s about 40 miles of scenic roadway that takes you through the park. Many arches and beautiful formations can be seen well from the road or pull-off areas. For the more adventurous, hiking trails can be used to get as close as possible to the structures, including some little ones that are hidden from the road.
I was able to get some great shots, but a word of caution: the iconic “Delicate Arch” takes over 1.5 hours to hike to…each way. Seeing it from far away was just fine, considering I was able to see so many other amazing arches close up, with only a minor hike instead. With the altitude and very high temperatures, I had to make choices on how to exert my energy.
Pine Tree Arch
On the way back to Moab, you’ll pass a road with sheer rock cliffs that many try rock climbing on. Just past the rock climbers is a long section of rock with a bunch of petroglyphs. It’s amazing to see the work of people about 10,000 years before our time, but the writing is faint and could be easily overlooked.
A big day of travel!
The goal was to leave Moab, Utah and arrive in Page, Arizona, with a stop in 4 Corners.
On the way out of town, there is a small detour you can take to Newspaper Rock. It’s another petroglyph area. These are a little easier to see, and you can get closer to the writing, making for some cool photos. I’ll never get tired of looking at things that are frozen in time.
About an hour south, near the town of Blanding, UT, I made a pit-stop at a really cool dinosaur museum. I was a bit surprised to see this caliber of museum in such a sleepy town, but there were lots of displays, fossils, replicas and other cool things to see.
This museum had 3 of the 6 known North American Permian logs, and the only ones on display! Not bad for something 275 million years old.
Another hour down the road I was dipping into Colorado and then New Mexico to swing by 4 Corners.
The Monument really is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a pretty cute tourist trap. The line was very long and the day was very hot (about 100 F) but signs leading up to the seal requested that everyone limit themselves to three pictures to ensure that the line will keep moving.
The center seal reads “Four states here meet in freedom under God.” Radiating out from the center is each states seal, name, overlook ramp, info plaque and flag, as well as booths of Navajo folk art around the perimeter.
After getting my photos, customary travel art and a much-needed snow cone, it was time to keep going. I had another three hours of driving before arriving in Page.
This was pretty much a straight shot to Page, with no additional turn offs. But once in Page and checked into the hotel, I still had lots of time to do something else. I had wanted to see Horseshoe Bend anyway, so when the hotel attendant said it was really close and easy to see, my mind was made up.
Ten minutes down the road was the sign and parking area. From there was a few yards of an uphill hike, followed by a 10 minute walk to the cliff edge. No safety features were in place, so caution was necessary, but the view was out of this world.
The pictures are great, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the scale that the eye absorbs in person.
Touring Antelope Canyon was a highlight of this journey. This iconic canyon, just a few minutes drive away from downtown Page, has a few different parts, and stretches below the surface for quite a distance.
I went to the “Lower” part for my tour. I paid extra for a photography tour, because we were allowed to bring nice photo equipment and tripods along. We were also given lots of extra time to really set up our shots. (The regular tour is great too, but they really move people through quickly.)
It was pretty tight getting down into the canyon, but once you squeeze your way through the opening, it opens up a bit so movement is a little easier.
Once at the bottom, we followed the path to some wider spots to set up our gear. In about two hours we were able to take some great shots without the other tour groups in our way.
It was an extremely hot day, but worth the hot sun and the sand blowing in our faces for this experience.
This was my last full day of vacation.
Leaving Page, I headed south on my way to Phoenix. After an hour or so, I pulled into the Cameron Trading Post. This is an awesome gift shop if you want anything to do with the 4 Corners area, Navajo art, desert home decor, local jewelry, pottery, Kokopelli images, etc. Some of the art was insanely beautiful and intricate. I walked away with a beautiful set of metal etched earrings and some sand art.
Continuing on, I noticed the first signs of cacti began about 50 miles north of Phoenix. The terrain changed and soon they were everywhere.
Getting into the city was a little crazy, as I didn’t understand how the city signs were labeled. But, after stopping to ask a few questions, I was on my way to the State Capital in no time.
The day was so hot…about 105 F to be exact. So I was happy to take refuge inside the capital building for a nice long time.
The main building is a museum now, due to newer wings that were added for legislative purposes. You guide yourself through the floors and take in all the unique things that Arizona has to offer about its history.
After an extremely hot day, it was nice to head to the hotel and enjoy some much-needed AC. I was hoping to go to a mall and hang out for a few hours, but I found out that Phoenix doesn’t have a mall! I guess there is a shopping area, but it’s all outside, like a strip-mall. So back to the hotel it was! I enjoyed pizza delivery in my cool room for the rest of the night 🙂
This trip only confirmed that the western states are so big, with so much to see, that I have no choice but to return one day and continue my exploration.