We left mesa verde and took the hot and dusty hwy 491 into the Canyonlands of Utah. After spending so much time in Colorado it felt good to be moving on to a new state. The first formations to shimmer into view were rock pedestals, jutting out of the landscape like great mushrooms. Newspaper Rock displays graffiti from generations of Native Americans and wandering cowboys. Miles and miles of layered red cliffs framed the lonely road. Temperatures hit the triple digits for the first time and we couldn’t help but to picture our tires blowing out from under us.
In Moab we got some local advice on escaping the heat and drove up La Sal road into an unlikely patch of mountains. Here we were greeted with a sunny shower of rain, cool shade, and an incredible vista of the surrounding canyons. The following day we wised up a bit and headed to Arches early in the morning to get some good hiking in before the sun hit high noon. The actual arches in the park are just the tip of the ice burg. Arches is home to strange and awesome geology. Most impressive to us was the grand double arch, big enough to fit a building inside. If not for the cars going by you may start to believe you are exploring mars rather than a state not so far from home. This feeling continued as the harsh dry heat pushed us quickly along highway 12, sprinting across four National Parks.
A softer pink slowly overtook the vibrant red stone in Capitol Reef National Park. The smooth and massive domes were interlaced with waves reminiscent of the ocean tide. Random towers broke up the flow almost as if to remind you it was stone you were looking at. Another patch of mountains took us high above Grand Staircase-Escalante. A great vantage point to soak in the next evolution of the canyons; we saw all the colors come together in great layers of cliffs below us. This portion of road has to be one of the most impressive drives in the country. Finally returning to bright orange-red we arrived at Bryce Canyon. It seems nobody thinks to camp outside the park as we seemed to be the only ones in the area just north of the entrance.
The topic of the morning as we entered the park was our self-indulgence. Being on vacation it’s easy to give in to your cravings and ignore usual healthy habits and routines. In light of this we made a silly pact to earn our sweets and beer through exercise. It was with this pact in mind that we set out on our hike for the day. Our leisurely stroll along the paved path turned into a walk down the slope, then a hike into the ravine, then a trek through the basin, and finally a long struggle back to the top. We pushed past gawking tourist trying to keep our pace consistent in the ascent. Emerging back onto the rim and soaking in the “needles” blanketing the canyon below we took a moment to really appreciate Bryce. Oshá promptly ate a candy bar and our pact ended. An interesting feature of Bryce is the continual eroding. Trees begin to form root systems on soft stone that quickly melts away giving them a weird hovering effect. They look like creatures scuttling away from the intrusive human crowds.
Keeping with the intense pace set earlier in the day we decided we were up for another park. Driving the 72 miles to Zion as fast as possible it wasn’t until we pulled into the visitor center that we heard the awful scraping, grinding sound that was coming from one of the front tires. A stray piece of rubber had lodged itself into the caliper wedging it into the rim. Luckily the damage was minimal and after dislodging it everything ran just fine. There is an extra jolt of fear associated with car trouble when it also serves as your home.
Anyone visiting Zion should absolutely come in from the east. Access is gained from a long tunnel with windows that give you tiny previews before opening into an epic view one of the cliff faces. It felt almost like a Disney ride! Zion is also the only area we have seen completely eliminate traffic within the park. Actually, they hardly allow cars at all. A constant shuttle tours through the valley at 5-10 minute intervals doing away with backed up cars and crowded parking spaces. Not having to stress about driving allowed us to give the park our full attention. Anyone who has dared the mess of Yosemite might appreciate the quiet organization of Zion. Hopefully other parks take the hint.
After the dry desert climate of the rest of the state, we were surprised to see the amount of water flowing. In some places the rocks actually “weep” with spring water and the Virgin River crashes along the base of the valley sometimes causing flash floods and mudslides. We had a lot of fun hiking in the river along the Narrows. The walls slowly close in on you blocking out sunlight and pushing the water higher. Not recommended for the claustrophobic.
By evening we were exhausted, wet, and filthy. Two National Parks in one day and we hadn’t showered in about five…. Our next potential camp was on the north rim of the Grand Canyon about 2 1/2 hours away. We loaded into the car accepting that we may have to sleep in our own dust and sweat. Taking a peek at the map Erik jokingly asked “Vegas?” The same distance away and the possibility of facilities was tempting, and there just so happened to be a great deal on a hotel, AND Oshá had never seen the Bellagio fountain. So it was decided. Vegas.
We walked into the dazzling lights of the Excalibur Hotel our dusty hiking boots thudding on the colorful carpet. Immaculately dressed vacationers inched away from our musky scent and over stuffed hiking packs. The attendant must see a lot working in Vegas because he didn’t so much as double-take as we approached the counter. Checked in and buzzing with the energy of the city(or maybe just the energy drinks) we were ready to resume the longest day of our lives (were we really at Bryce Canyon just this morning?!). We donned our camouflage and emerged from the room.