The purpose of our six-week road trip across the West was twofold: 1) To see many of the states and national parks neither of us had seen and 2) to visit places that were hard or expensive to fly into and, thus, only readily accessible by car. I’ve been asked why we aren’t hitting up Zion—answer: been there, done that; and while I’d like to go back for longer, we can easily fly into Arizona and do a southern Utah tour sometime in the future—and why we didn’t detour to Colorado Springs for Garden of the Gods (see previous statement). However, one spot I had visited, many years ago in 2002, and I just had to go back when it was more or less along our route and show SVV its geological wonders; that place was Utah’s spectacular Canyonlands.
In fact, my inner emotions about returning for a second visit looked something like this:
(And yes, that is me jumping on the edge of the canyon; and yes, I am the biggest klutz you virtually know and probably shouldn’t be doing things like this. Oh well, you only live once. Sorry, Mom.)
Like the rest of our trip, we didn’t really have a plan. We had no idea if we’d show up and have nowhere to park our truck and trailer (many campsites in national parks are offered on a first come, first served basis and it was a Friday toward the beginning of summer, after all). We didn’t really know what we’d do once we got there. But that’s the beauty of a road trip: Time is not of the essence and driving allows one the flexibility to detour when prompted or extend a stay when nature gives you no other choice but to do so.
And so we drove south from Salt Lake City, over the mountains at Provo and arrived just outside Moab some hours later. We headed straight to Horsethief, a campsite on the fringe of Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park and found a host of sites open. For $12 a night, we camped on the edge of the canyon in a primitive site (no water, no electric, no sewer), and it was glorious (despite that most annoying family who decided to turn on an audiobook at 11pm one night and was met with screams .
The first morning there, we got up early and headed into the park. After all, we’d purchased the annual national parks pass for $85 (versus paying $10 or up each time we visited a park) and wanted to get our money’s worth.
We entered the park through the Island of the Sky region; the Needles was just too far of a drive, and besides, many of the main attractions that don’t require backcountry trekking are in the northern part of the 527-square-mile park. After dropping in at the main visitor’s center near the entrance for trail maps, we continued through the park by car. Mesa Arch is the first main stop on the route, so we parked and hiked the easy half-mile trail out to the overlook.
Next, we drove to Upheaval Dome and did the mildly steep mile-and-a-half hike out and back to a big rock, where this delegation of travelers took a little nap on the sandstone.
On the way back, we got a little turned around as we lost sight of the cairns, and even though Upheaval is a major tourist stop, I can see how one could easily wander off the trail by accident and find themselves in the middle of nowhere. All that red rock starts to look the same after awhile!
Next, we drove out to the Green River Overlook, where you can see the La Sal Mountains and their snowy peaks…
…as well as the Green River snaking its way through the valley.
Other than countless lizards and chipmunks, we didn’t encounter any wildlife, but our little billy goat was loving leaping onto towering (to her) boulders and scampering through puddles. If I could speak Puppy, I’d say the Canyonlands was Ella’s favorite part of this trip so far. (The bison in South Dakota, on the other hand, were probably her least favorite.)
We’ve been traveling for 17 days now. Fifteen of those days have been plagued by end-of-days-like rains. I’m only grateful the one blissfully sunny day we experienced was in the Canyonlands, with just the perfect amount of cloud coverage for photography sake.