31st May 2012 - 9th Jun 2012
National Parks of Utah - What a Tour!
Utah – official tourism tagline is ‘LIFE ELEVATED’ – no kidding! We had both wanted to spend time in the National Parks and this was our opportunity, so off we set leaving the glitz of Vegas behind us to discover the real American heritage. We had 13 days on the road, and my god the natural beauty of what we saw left us gob-smacked.
We based ourselves in a small town called Cedar City for our first two nights, which gave us easy access to Zion National Park. Roy had visited before but I hadn’t – it’s stunningly beautiful, quite green (unlike the other Parks we visited) and surrounds you with towering monoliths. Zion is set up very well for visitors and on arriving, you park your car at the Visitor Centre and shuttle buses take you into the Park. At first I thought this was really naff but then I changed my mind as it means you have hardly any vehicles spoiling the scenery, less exhaust fumes, but of course lots of people! Our second evening was spent eating at Rusty’s Ranch House which is a kind of shed a few miles outside of Cedar City, in a wonderful canyon setting and with steaks to die for!
We actually went through Zion twice - the first ime as described above and the second was on our way back out of the canyons, en route to the West Coast. This second drive took us through a different, and much more interesting and beautiful, part of Zion - the area without the silly names for pieces of rock, just lots of natural beauty.
We drove to Bryce Canyon the next day, and stayed at a Best Western set within the Canyon – great, convenient location but you are a captive audience and can easily get ripped off – we tried not to be! I have to say the Bryce Canyon took my breath away (again Roy had already visited)….we spent a few hours there on our first afternoon, and then the next morning decided to get up at 5.30 am to see sunrise over the Canyon. Although it wasn’t the best sunrise ever, it was a very special moment (as long as I try to fade out the group of 20 teenage school girls who were chattering away and not appreciating the spirituality of it all!!) After that we hiked right down into the Canyon whilst it was still cool, and were afforded with some amazing views looking back up. After breakfast, we viewed the Canyon from various other angles and view-points, and by about 3 pm we decided we were Bryced out and it was time to move on!
Next stop was a place called Torrey, a small town with not a lot going on, but we liked this place. We chose Torrey because it’s near the next Park, called Capitol Reef. Its main feature is what is known as the Waterpocket Fold, which is a 100 mile fin of earth creating a huge chasm. Once again the scenery was just awesome, again with rock that incredible deep terracotta colour - we hope the pics do it justice. Our hotel room faced some of the backdrop, wonderful to sit outside our room at the end of the day, glass in hand, and just take it all in.
One evening in Torrey we visited The Saddlery, a brand new restaurant in this small town, and it’s just enormous. Owned by a wealthy entrepreneur from the North East, no expense was spared kitting this place out with saddle seating, amazing central bar, live music, and the ‘special’ which was bison (also, many bison heads decorating the walls!). We tried the bison, of course, Roy loved it, I was less keen, preferring cow myself! Another evening after a less than average Mexican meal, we tried the local bar where Roy was knocked for six with a local IPA with a 10% alcohol content, and this is Utah where their alcohol tolerance is very limited! He enjoyed it immensely . A very nearby township called Fruita is worth a mention, as this was where the Mormons settled in the 19th century and carved a living by planting orchards and so forth. Today the orchards still exist and you visit their house where they make THE best fruit pies ever; served of course with home-made ice-cream – we succumbed two days in a row!
Our next base was a place called Moab, it’s a proper town with a very busy and almost bustling Main Street boasting many restaurants, bars, interesting shops and of course the obligatory liquor store, all very appealing to Stephanie! This town is the gateway to two National Parks; Arches and Canyonlands.
Arches is a very magical, mystical place and as you can imagine, has many fine examples of rock which have been eroded in such a way as to create ‘arches’. Our favourite was ‘Delicate Arch’ (yes they’re all named!) – you have to make a 3 mile trek in order to view it and once you arrive, you just have to have your photo taken inside it. This was quite a challenge as it involved climbing up onto a ridge and then shimmying down to make your way into it. Not easy when you only have short legs, but well worth the effort! Another wonderful arch is called Landscape Arch, an easier walk and also North and South Window arches that are neither Micro nor Soft… Lots of walking (or trekking as the Parks call it), and we loved it!
The other park within easy reach of Moab is Canyonlands, which, although only about 30 miles from Arches, could be on a different planet. In fact sometimes we thought we were looking at the craters of the moon - or the dimples of Uranus... It’s the largest of the Utah parks and the part we visited was called Island in the Sky, which is a large elevated piece of land bordered on one side by the Green River and the other by the Colorado – we did a 3 mile trek to the edges of the rim and honestly the views were staggering.
So it was with great sadness that we left Utah… but we did feel that we had indeed experienced the ‘elevated life’!
The final leg of this part of our journey took us on a long journey south and then west back into Arizona, where on the Utah/Arizona border we took the scenic drive through the magnificent Monument Valley – WOW! As soon as you see it in the distance you realise you’ve seen the same view countless times in movies or TV programmes, such an iconic symbol of the American West. This was home to the Navajo Indians. Roy said he was disappointed with Monument Valley exactly because the view IS the one you’ve seen so many times and he was expecting more. Oh, please! Personally I thought it was a very fitting end to our tour of the National Parks….
Suffice to say that when asked before we left the UK, what on earth we would be doing during our year away, I for one often said, “well, we’ll be just ‘living’ but somewhere else”. Our experiences so far make me want to revise my bland statement because this trip is opening our eyes and minds to such a broad and diverse planet, and we’ve the time to live in the moment, smell the pine, watch the cottonwood drift by, listen to the silence (the silence in a canyon is awesome broken only by the occasional insect scurry or bird chirp, it’s so QUIET!), feel the dry humid dessert heat, sip the local liquor and blend into the lives of the natives. Yep, this has been completely beguiling and I’ve been totally bowled over – and we are now both knackered and looking forward to a short rest!