Highlights of a Bucket List Trip to Southern Utah (Arches, Bryce, Canyonland, and More)

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My parents have shared some of their budget traveling stories here before, and thankfully were willing to do so again.  Their travel style is slightly different than mine.  They prefer domestic trips, and are totally okay with modest airline and hotel accommodations.  They leverage miles and points to make their budget travels even more affordable on their retirement budget, while at the same time marveling in some of the natural beauty of this country.  They were even just quoted in the Wall Street Journal about some of their thrifty travel habits!

My parents are children of the “Greatest Generation”, are proud of this country (well, for the most part), and enjoy experiencing various National Parks and treasures. Their most recent trip in October was a big tour around Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, and they were happy to share how they used miles, points, and deals to make this bucket list dream come true in this post.  Now, they are sharing some of the highlights of their trip in their words and pictures.

We really like Utah. Southern Utah is rugged, bold and in your face. It has been shaped and defined, manipulated and designed by great geologic and environmental forces.  The end result is not fancy, smooth and manicured, but rather extreme, irregular and natural.

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Utah is more denim than satin, more a linebacker than a wide receiver, more a buffet than a formal sit down, more boots than flip flops, more Hole In The Wall Gang than Wall Street Gang, and more Jennifer Lawrence than Kim Kardashian. Utah is dynamically colorful like a box of 128 crayons, and I mean the real Crayolas and not faux knock-offs.  In other words, it is like us.  Or rather, we are like it.

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The numerous National Parks, State Parks and National Monuments that call southern Utah home all offer multi-dimensional natural wonders and a landscape architectural array that varies between extra terrestrial and a journey to the center of the earth. You will find the massive domes and colorful cliffs of Castle Reef. You will see the  2,000 graceful arches and the towering columns of balancing rocks at Arches.

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Canyonland is aptly named as the earth gives way to vast and abundant canyons carved by the lifeline Colorado and Green Rivers and bordered by mesas that are bubble centered flat. Bryce offers soaring spires and pinnacles, huge walls and fins and twisting canyons in between.  Zion is like a playground for the gods.

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All the parks have a very user friendly road system with frequent sightseeing viewpoints that let you appreciate and experience the highlights and that give you the option to satisfy your appetite by using the drive thru window or by parking the car and dining in.

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We have deliberately front loaded some of our more adventuresome and energetic bucket list trips while we are most physically able to go for hikes, to climb up rocks and to explore what’s around the next bend. Most days found us taking two or three hikes of varying difficulties and of lengths between one to three miles. Many of these hikes to likes or marches to arches put us in a world reminiscent of the movie ‘HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS’. It was like we were in a giant sandbox playing and walking amidst giant sandcastles, towers and forts.

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At other times, it was visually as though we were in a giant sweet shop surrounded by mountainous slabs of sliced cakes topped with mounds of rocky road ice cream and covered with multi-colored swirly icing. Surround this with giant cinnamon rolls and clumps of dough in every shape imaginable, and you get the picture. It was delicious for the ocular palette. I am sure that in winter this heavenly landscape looks even more appetizing when dusted with snow, I mean powdered sugar.

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One of our favorite hikes was the popular Navajo Trail in Bryce National Park. This gorgeous adventure is unique because you start and finish at the walk’s highest point. You drop dramatically to start and you climb abruptly to finish. It is a bit visually intimidating from the top but a series of switchbacks traverse the slope to make it user doable and allow most everyone the opportunity to share in the excitement. It is well worth it. The area is awash with bright glowing orange hues as the sun interacts with the massive hoodoos.

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There are narrow canyons, forested walkways, arches and bridges and hidden alcoves. You feel small and as though you are walking in the shadows of giant skyscrapers when you are at the base of the of the towering rock formations. If you let your imagination go, you can imagine yourself in Egypt crisscrossing across the face of a pyramid as you climb back to sunlight. This is a hike we definitely would have done a second time had we not gotten caught up in the government shutdown. As the Terminator once said, ” I’ll be back. “

The Utah skies are very clear and this makes for great visuals day and night. Daytime visibility can extend to 100-150 miles, and the sky can get so blue that it pushes the spectrum envelope. At night, stars explode out of the deep, black curtain by the thousands. Don’t be STARtled when some old celestial friends from your youth appear for your re-acquaintance.  It is comforting to see that The Milky Way is still way more than a candy bar.

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Southern Utah is full of national parks, monuments and state parks that make for great destinations. It is also a state of great roads and byways that are experiences unto themselves. Two of the best are Highway 9 thru Zion National Park and Scenic Byway 12.   Hwy 9 is less than thirty miles in length but offers stunning views, mountainous tunnels, hairpin turns and, did I mention, stunning views. It is a fun, but comfortable drive. Byway 12 has been justly classified as AN ALL AMERICAN HIGHWAY. This 120 mile passage highlights the best Utah has to offer, and is both an engineering and scenery enabling thrill ride. This is not just a road to somewhere else. This is special, so take your time and enjoy.

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Long before there was home delivery of newspapers either to your driveway or to your desktop there was Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is a 200 sq. ft. slab of significant and historic Indian petroglyphs etched during the past 2000 years. The Navajo term is “TSE HONE” which translates to ‘ a rock that tells a story ‘. Some carvings are easily identifiable and some are left to conjecture and to the imagination of the viewer. There are drawings that look just like deer and horses and buffalo and hunters and bows and arrows and elk. And then there are some that look like spacemen. Ancient astronauts, anyone? This amazing piece of history is located just north of Monticello on the way to The Needles District in Canyonland N.P.. Utah is rich with such etchings that can be enjoyed throughout the state.

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If we were to leave a message for future journeyers, we might just say, “WE CAME, WE SAW, WE UTAH’ED. And it was good. And by the way, Utah, you rock. Literally and figuratively.

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I’m sad I couldn’t make this trip with my parents and sister, but do hope to follow in their footsteps one day.  It’s hard to argue with the natural beauty this country has to offer.  Thanks to them for sharing, and look I forward to hearing about their next adventure!

Comments

  1. Nice report. One last international trip this week, then on way to see family in CO will be stopping off here. Looking forward to driving across the desert in winter. Thanks for the ideas.

  2. I love it, great recap. I am partial living in SLC but I love everything Southern Utah has to offer. The diversity in Utah is awesome with the mountains and ski resorts in the north to the red rock and national parks in the south. My favorite place on earth that is missing from these posts (earlier one about The Grand Canyon and Page, Az as well) is Lake Powell but you really need to boat to thorough explore and enjoy the whole lake. Thanks for the posts and glad you enjoyed your visit.

  3. I’m in the process of planning my summer vacation for 2014. I’m going to Montana, Wyoming and Alberta to visit my favorite U.S and Canadian national parks and to see where my favorite yarn is dyed. I’m including a cross country Amtrak ride and a ride on via rail back to Windsor, Ontario.

  4. to Jefthro-
    Now that we are able to use the entire year and not just non-school dates, we are very partial to early Fall trips. The weather is usually great and the crowds are a little less intense. Our trip to Utah and Arizona was in this time frame and we highly recommend it.
    Thanks

  5. Awesome pics! I enjoyed the descriptive writing. I grew up with this stuff in my backyard (yes, literally) so very intriguing to read the descriptions.

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