Enjoying the Scenery: Utah National Parks and other "Grand" Canyons
I'm not good at road trips. Meaning, I don't sit well in a car for long periods of time. Growing up, my family went on a driving vacation nearly every summer. Fortunately, we had a large custom van and I wore headphones attached to my Walkman at all times. Since I was the oldest of three girls, I usually "won" the back seat where I could stretch out and sleep. My dad always drove, and I heard more than once "Shannon! Sit up and enjoy the scenery". I guess I was a typical teenager of the '80's, and I just wasn't interested in a lot of scenery. As an adult, I'm fortunate to get to fly a lot to my vacations, and because of my recent tennis injuries, stiffness, and aging, it's just difficult to sit for a long time.
However, I realize that in order to see some of the most beautiful sights in the world, one must be seated, usually in a car, in order to enjoy the scenery. That is why I suggested to my husband that we explore the national parks in Utah. I had seen photographs on the Internet, and I just couldn't believe those places actually existed in the United States. Phil, my husband, was kind enough to plan the trip, and even kinder to let us fly to Denver to start the road trip. The drive to Denver from Oklahoma is torture to someone like me who likes to be busy, and there is no scenery to enjoy on that drive unless you like asphalt and flat grassy plains. We also have two sons who live in Colorado and agreed to meet us for dinner in Denver at Second Home, one of the best restaurants in the Cherry Creek area.
The next day started the most scenic week I've ever experienced in the U.S. We rented a car and drove through Glenwood Springs, Colorado, but not without stopping at a familiar bead shop and then a surprise Polish restaurant for sausage and pourokis. We ate them in the car and they were fantastic. The mountains along the road in Colorado toward Utah were gorgeous, but arriving in Moab, Utah, and seeing the red cliffs and rock formations was incredible. I happen to really love the desert, especially mountains in the desert, and I knew I had found a place of paradise. Moab sits on the Colorado River. It has been the location for several Hollywood films , including Rio Grande starring John Wayne.
We stopped at Arches National Park which is known for its massive sandstone buttes, petrified wood, canyons, balanced rocks, and graceful arches. We drove through much of it but hiked to Delicate Arch, a 3 mile round trip hike that was fairly difficult, but worth it. We also saw the double arch and landscape arch just near sunset, which was a beautiful treat. We stayed at Red Cliffs Lodge just outside Moab, which is a ranch bordering the Colorado River. The accomodations were nice, but the food was just average. They made sack lunches for us the next day for our hikes in Canyonlands National Park. Just outside the park is Dead Horse Point State Park, which had a gorgeous panoramic view of the canyons. In the early 1900's cowboys had captured wild mustangs by driving them across the narrow neck of the land onto the Point and then closing a brush fence behind them. The CO River was 2,000 feet below.
Canyonlands National Park is divided by the Green River and the CO River. We drove to the Island in the Sky in the park and hiked several trails , including Crater View Trail, which was a magnificent one mile trail over slick rocks to view the amazing sight below, the upheaval dome crater. It is a mystery how it was formed, either by a meteorite crash or a salt dome left by evaporated inland seas. Whatever the cause, it was a beautiful sight.
Our next destination was Page, Arizona, which was a five hour drive from Moab. Our goal was to visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon the following day. The closest accomodation that had availablity was Page. The biggest surprise of the entire trip was near this city where Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon dam reside. The surprise, however, was Antelope Canyon, whichcannot be seen from the road. We had read about it, and were intrigued by the photos on the internet. We purchased a tour at Ken's Tours in the Lower Antelope Canyon. What we saw in that canyon was beyond anything I could accurately describe. The Navajo sandstone formations deep underground were stunning. The 1/4 mile walk through the maze of formations was the perfectopportunity for numerous colorful photographs and awesome views up above.
We celebrated this unexpected treasure at Big Jon's Texas Barbeque in Page. The bbq nachos and ribs were absolutely delicious! Fortunately, we walked off those calories with a hike at Horseshoe Trail to see the CO River wind around a rock formation in the shape of a horseshoe (go figure!). We also walked to the Hanging Gardens along the stratified sandstone which was a gorgeous walk. Our Italian dinner at Bonkers was also a treat. It was casual atmosphere with great service and really delicious food.
The Grand Canyon was our next stop, which was a 2 1/2 hour drive from Page. We arrived at the north rim late morning, and the view was a bit hazy. I'd never seen the Grand Canyon before, so I was very impressed with such an incredible sight. The lodge and park facilities were really nice, which made it tempting to return for another visit and stay in the future. But we had other parks to visit, and were soon on the road for the three hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah where we stayed at the Bryce Canyon Lodge. This was another huge highlight in our trip. The canyon was filled with a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters formed from erosion that carved colorful Claron limestone into thousands of spires, arches, and mazes. There is a 17 mile drive with many viewing spots, including a Sunrise View and a Sunset View.
There were many people visiting from all over the world, and among every age. I appreciated that elderly people could enjoy the views from above, and fit youngsters could enjoy some pretty strenuous hikes into the many steep mazes and trails. (I won't say which of these two categories I fit). The lodge was very comfortable, although a little dated, but the food in the restaurant was worth a strong mention. It was outstanding and highly recommended.
On the road again, and our destination was Zion National Park, just two hours from Bryce. Although the formations and grandiose cliffs were spectacular, it was a little underwhelming after seeing Bryce Canyon the same day. We stayed in Springdale, Utah just outside the park at Desert Pearl Inn. It was a really nice motel, but the most enjoyment was having our room on the side of the Virgin River. Our spacious room had doors that opened out to a patio just near the flowing river, which was very relaxing. We also had a massage therapist come to the room on our second day after lots of hiking, which was a fantastic end to our day. The little town of Springdale has many great restaurants and shops where I purchased several pieces of pottery made by local artists and beautiful rocks from a local rock shop. Fortunately, every store owner is happy to ship home your goods. My favorite restaurant in Springdale was Spotted Dog, which despite the name, served delicious home-made Italian food.
Zion was our final stop in a National Park, and we headed south to Las Vegas for the finale of this glorious trek through nature. On the way, we stopped at Valley of Fire, a state park in Nevada named for the magnificent red sandstone formations, which appear to look like fire during perfect sunsets. Quite honestly, we were delaying the end of the quiet and peaceful week, so we hiked two of the trails where many western Hollywood films had been made from the 1950's until the early 2.000's. It's a really gorgeous place to visit, and is just one hour from Las Vegas.
The eight days of driving through God's perfect creation were some of myfavorite travel days ever. There's no other way to explore this part of the country, and I would do it the same way all over again. I'm intrigued to see the rest of the Grand Canyon sometime soon, and I'll forever be grateful for my dad's nagging voice telling me to "sit up and enjoy the scenery". Lesson learned!