Exploring the southwest; Southern Utah

10_utah_3Delicate Arch in Arches National Park




Special to the I-O by Cindy Habets Peterson

The tour of our very own Western United States (first stop San Francisco) continues this month in Utah.

With no fewer than six National Parks scattered across the southern half of the state, Utah conveniently provides enough spectacular scenery to while away as much vacation time as you can squeeze into one trip.

For many, Utah conjures up images of the Rockies, powder-skiing, Sundance Film Festival or the Great Salt Lake.  An altogether different Utah lies several hours south of Salt Lake City.

Here, the wind-swept landscapes are more reminiscent of the Sonoran desert than the Rocky Mountains.   Sandstone in brilliant red, orange, and white has been meticulously carved into canyons and sculpted into arches by Mother Nature, showcasing her propensity for artwork beyond human imagination.

Each park has distinct features, lending a different perspective on this unique landscape. Each National Park is well deserving of a day or more of exploration.

The parks are laid out, as if by a well-organized tour guide, in a scenic loop weaving its way through seemingly endless vistas.  A tour of Southern Utah will leave you wanting more when you decide it’s time to turn the car around and drive home.

10_utah_1Zion National Park: Zion is the oldest of Utah’s National Parks, designated in 1919.  It is also the highest trafficked, for good or bad.

At the forefront of promoting green transportation, Zion allows no cars and instead relies on passenger trams to shuttle visitors up and down the Canyon floor.

Boasting 50,385 vehicle miles saved in the park each day and reducing traffic jams, many other parks could benefit from this type of system.  Take the tram all the way to the last stop and step as far as you are inclined into the Narrows, anywhere from a meander down the river trail to canyoneering in the Narrows itself.

For more adventuresome hikers with a bit of climbing stamina and no fear of heights, take the trek to Angel’s Landing for a birds-eye view of the canyon below. The payoff for breaking a sweat on the way up is a breathe-taking view of Zion most people never see.

10_utah_2Bryce Canyon: Looping up from the red rock canyon of Zion to Bryce Canyon offers as different a canyon experience as you can imagine in just a few short miles.  My personal favorite, you can never quite shake the feeling that you’ve landed in a scene from Star Trek rather than simply driven up in your car.  Geographical formations called hoodoos (yes, that is their official scientific name) stand in the thousands, as if sentries guarding this magical place.

Formed over thousands of years of wind, water, and ice erosion, each hoodoo is as unique as a human fingerprint. Escape the crowds within a short mile of the lookout sites and wander virtually undisturbed.  If you have kids in tow, picking out shapes in the hoodoos can really spur some imaginative discussions.

Capital Reef National Park: Utah Highway 24 cuts through the middle of this park, making it is easy to traverse Capital Reef on the way from Bryce Canyon to those on the Eastern side of the state.  Stop and explore or continue onto Moab and Arches National Park.

Arches National Park: Ever wanted to see the inspiration for the Utah’s license plate in person?  One of the most rewarding short hikes you can do is to Delicate Arch, forever known to my husband and me as “the license plate hike”.

Beat the crowds and the heat, and make the three-mile roundtrip jaunt to fully appreciate this freak of rock nature in person as the sun climbs over the top of the arch.  Then head off to explore the rest of the park, including the easily accessible Double Arch, Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace. Later, relax in the adventure town of Moab, sipping local beers and swapping hiking or biking stories.

Canyonlands National Park: If you still have time enough to continue on your journey south, it may be time to visit Canyonlands.  With some of the best whitewater rafting and hair-raising 4x4 trails in Utah, the Canyonlands is the place for the adrenaline junkie of your group.

Monument Valley: Located within the Navajo Nation Reservation, Monument Valley is possibly the most recognizable of the Utah monuments, it’s famous formations have been featured in a Clint Eastern movie, a Metallica music video, and even video games.

The Navajo refer to Monument Valley as Tse’ Bii’ Ndzisgaii – which translates to “light around the mittens”, referring to two huge sandstone spires towering over the desert floor.   To truly make your visit to Monument Valley a memorable one, make reservations to stay at a traditional Hogan.  Learn about Navajo historical sites and sample traditional food during this unique cultural experience (more info at www.navajocentral.org).

Additional park information, area maps and accommodations can be found at www.utah.com/nationalparks.  And if you have some extra time on your hands, you might, just might, want to take a peek into Grand Canyon … as long as you’re in the neighborhood.

National Parks travel tip: If you are planning to visit more than three National Parks in 2010, it pays to purchase a National Park Pass.  For $80/year (from date of purchase), you will have access to all U.S. National Parks and Monuments.  With individual daily park fees hovering between $20 and $30, a park pass pays for itself quickly – and reduces your excuses not to visit Glacier Park this summer.

More info can be found at: www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.

Editor’s note: I’ve been asking for your travel questions for months now and… nothin’.  I’m sure there are some great questions out there, and as incentive I am giving away 1,000 Places to See in the U.S.A. & Canada Before You Die to the reader who sends me the best travel question in the next 30 days.  I’ll provide answers to your questions in the I-O.  Email me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow our wanderings at www.theblondewanderer.com.

Happy Traveling!