In his 1968 book, Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey offers a beatiful description, prophetic at times, of the beatiful red rocks, mesas and vast stretches of desert that mark the landscape of Southeastern Utah. After spending the first half of the trip exploring Zion and Bryce canyons, (both located in the western part of the state), we were ready to begin our journey into what Edward desribed as his “one true home.”
Day 4: Bryce Canyon NP, Grand Staircase Escalante, Capital Reef NP, Moab
There are few sights in this world more glorious than watching the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. After a long day of hiking the day before, we had planned for an early start to catch the sunrise, leave Bryce, then spend a good portion of the day driving straight across the state via route 12; one of America's great scenic byways. We awoke early (as usual), bundled up with hats and jackets, walked out the front door of the lodge, and headed through the dark, guided by our headlamps, to Sunset Point. Though all the guidebooks advise to head to Sunrise Point for the sunrise (duh), we took the advice of the good ranger who did not lead us astray in any of his previous suggestions (hiking trails, dinner, etc.). With very few other people joining us at this overlook, we knew we had made the right choice. We stood there quietly and reflectively, Michelle practicing her Yoga, as the bright, yellow beams of the sun began to peak up over the horizon and begin a glorious show of lights upon the red rock hoodoos that fill the ampitheater below.
After sunrise, we packed up our belongings in the room, hopped in the car, and headed out the park, via route 12, towards Escalante; a small town in the middle of Grand Staircase National Monument. Though not one of Utah's “big five” national parks, Grand Staircase Escalante sits at the top of the geological strata that stretches down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. In a move that some consider controversial, Bill Clintion designated this area under federal protection in 1996, angering many miners and ranchers in Utah.
Along the road there are numerous little towns and pull-outs which offer panoramic views of the surrounding landcape. On clear days, you can see the Henry Mountains and Capital Reef NP to your east.
After stopping at the visitor's center in Escalante, we took the advice of an elderly lady and drove to the small town of Boulder, where route 12 meets Burr Trail; a paved road that drives straight through giant slabs of towering red rock canyons, with numerous switchbacks and hidden trails along the way.
About 11 miles into the road, in the middle of the section called Long Canyon, we pulled off to the side , crossed over a scruby wash, and entered a slot canyon, where we poked about for a little bit, before returning to the car.
Back in Boulder, we stopped off for lunch at the Burr Trail Grill, a little oasis of liberalism in the middle of Utah. Serving organic food with microbrews, this little restuarant is one of the last you'll find along the way towards Captial Reef NP.
Though we had originally planned to skip Capital Reef National Park due to time restraints, we were excited when we realized, looking at a map, that we would actually need to drive right though it in order to get to our destination for that evening; Moab. Though we didn't see much of the park, mostly driving through and pulling over for pictures, we did get a little taste of its yellow sandstone arches and towering red rock formations. We also went in search of petrographs, but my blind eye couldn't see much.
That night, we finally arrived in Moab a little after 5pm. We checked into the Red Stone Inn, a Kitsch, mid-range motel/hotel south on Main Street, with full-on wood paneled rooms, complimented by framed pictures of the iconic landscape and old western movies. We quickly got settle, walked around town a bit, then headed to the Moab Brewery for a drink and bite to eat before calling it a day. Our plan for the next morning, again, was to get up bright and early and beat the crowds into Arches National Park.
Day 5: Arches National Park and Moab
Entering Arches National Park the next morning, we drove through the one paved road that connects the visitor's center in the south end of the park, up to the Devil's Garden Trailhead, where we set out for another glorious morning hike. We followed the Devil's Garden trail to take view of many of the “highlight” arches of the park. All of them different, all of them wonderful in their own way
Before we set out to return via Primitive trail, we took a side trail up to “Dark Angel”, which, well, reminded us of something else…. you decide:)
After our hike, we drove back down through the park, stopping off at a little hike to Sand Dune Arch, followed by another stop off at Balanced Rock.
After our mornig hike, we decided to head back into Moab and grab some lunch at Eddie McStiff's, a giant pub that serves high-end bar food on an outdoor patio. After a little taste of the local Polygamy Porter and a Wasatch Organic IPA, we needed to take a little break from the park. Fortunately, I had read about the most kitsch, touristy trap you could find; Hole in the Rock, which was located just 12 miles south of Moab. The attraction was closing at 6, but fortunately for us, we were able to catch the last tour. The “house” was created when a mining expert named Albert, dynamited the rock to build a home for him and his wife in the 1950s. Filled with 1950s furniture and decor, with a splash of taxidermered donkeys and horses, this place ranks among the creepiest I have visited. Unfortunately for us, the free petting zoo and gift store were closed by the time we were done with the tour.
After getting our fill of Kitsch, we headed back up to Arches, to hike the trailhead up to Delicate Arch for sunset. After climbing up a rather steep rock scramble, and hiking our way around a carved out cliff in the rock, we turned the corner to come upon one of the most resplendent sights I have ever seen. Delicate Arch at sunset cannot be overexaggerated, and while there were quite a few others there with us up on that ledge of rock, it still felt like a peaceful and serene moment of solitude.
We capped off the day with another great meal at the Moab Brewery, fast becoming my favorite restuarant in Southern Utah.
Day 6- Canyonlands NP
Although we had originally thought we would scrap visiting the last of the “big five” Utah national parks, when we realized how close it was to Moab, we decided to check it out before heading on the road back to Salt Lake City for our flight home.
Canyonlands is divided into three “districts” separated by the Green river and the Colorado River. It is impossible to visit all three sections from the same entrance, so we decided to visit the northern most section; “Islands in the Sky” due to its proximity to Moab and to the airport. As you drive through this section of the park, you are really driving atop a giant mesa that provides panoramic views of the surrounding area for 100 miles, including “the Needles” district in the south of the park. We stopped off for a few quick hikes, the highlights of which were Mesa Arch and the Grand Viewpoint Trail.
The landscape is barren, the views are limitless, the roads and hikes can be perrilous at times; but nothing can really prepare you for the astounding beauty that is Southern Utah. 5 days, 5 parks, one incredible trip!