Utah (30th March to 13th April 2010)

Utah is an underrated state that is full of dramatic and otherworldy scenery and unusual wildlife. There are many national parks here. During April it was extremely cold at night but comfortable during the day. We had some interesting nights tent camping in -8’c which tested our kit to the extreme. We also dealt with 50 mph winds, 85’f days and snow storms!


Moab town - Arches and Canyonlands National Parks

As we leave Colorado we drop off the I70 interstate and take a scenic road into Moab. Wow, we go through this amazing deep canyon, dark red rocks all round just stunning. The road is scary, with rockfalls and bits dropping away to the river below. Some of the formations are like big castles on the hills. We pitch up for 3 nights at one of the primitive Bureau of Land Management campgrounds (BLM) along the Colorado River. There’s some nice hiking around the campsite, including Negro Bill’s trail that runs all along a small river canyon to end at a really large natural rock bridge. It’s about 4.5 miles but involves a lot of rock scrambling and walking up hills.


Arches National Park


As the name suggests, this park is full of natural stone arches and bridges, moulded by erosion and water. The rocks are deep orange/red. The rest of the park is desert and full of red dust that gets everywhere! We get a few of the smaller hikes under our belt, to see Delicate Arch and Windows. After a few days we tackle the 7.2 mile Devil’s Garden trail at the end of the park.

Just as we get out of the car it starts to snow – great – so we layer up and plod on. The snow turns to quite a horizontal blizzard but we persevere and after the first two arches (Landscape Arch and Double O Arch) it improves and we see some blue sky. The primitive trail is great. Hardly anyone around and we have to scramble up and down the huge red rock fins. It’s out of this world and we have to challenge ourselves a little. We get to a pond that is quite deep and the only way to cross is to climb up and over a smooth piece of high slickrock or to wade through the 3ft water. A couple are coming the other way and he gallantly puts her on his shoulders and carries her over, but I did think they were both going to go under at one point. I grab her hands to help pull her out and nearly go in myself. Rich scales the rock like a mountain goat whereas I have to take about 3 false starts before scrabbling my way up and over. No wet feet though. I feel like a child again, jumping over cracks and running up the rocks.
One day we join the 10am hike in Fiery Furnace with the Ranger. He’s an odd young man but entertains the kids well with his antics. It’s a great 3 hour walk into this crazy landscape of fins and arches where you could so easily get lost, it’s like a maze. We have to crawl through tiny gaps and straddle cracks to get into blind canyons. He tells us about the geology of the area and the plants and animals – it’s interesting, as all of the ranger led activities are.


Canyonlands National Park


This park is the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers and has two huge deep cut canyons joining at a wonderful lookover called Island In The Sky. A lot of the park is inaccessible unless you have a 4 wheel drive but there are some nice short hikes from the main park road, like Mesa Arch which forms a window on a terrific view, and Upheaval Dome which is a weird coloured hump that no one is really sure how it got formed. In some ways the park is more impressive than the Grand Canyon, as the vista goes on for miles.



The town nearest Arches is a lot more developed than we had expected in Utah. It has a big well stocked supermarket and the usual restaurants. The drinking laws in Utah have relaxed a little since we were last here and you can actually find a bar to drink in but they don’t really advertise it. We also track down the state run liquor store which has reasonably priced wines. While we were in Moab they had the annual Jeep Safari on so the place was mobbed with 4 wheel drivers tearing off over the desert. The private campground we picked was mostly RV’s and packed out, so not the best camping we’ve ever done but we met some nice people nonetheless.

Driving from Moab to Escalante


We were given a recommendation to visit Goblin Valley State Park as we leave Moab and head south west. This place is well worth the detour as the rock formations are so weird. They are more like mushrooms than goblins but you can walk right amongst them and we took some fun photos. The kids there were loving exploring. It was also out of the bitterly cold wind that was blowing, so I could even take my woolly hat off!


Further on down the road we pass through Capitol Reef National Park where we see some petroglyphs high up on the walls and mule deer in the valley. This park is starting to look greener and we see some more wildlife. We don’t stop long as we have been here on a previous trip. The road down through Boulder and into Escalante is amazing. We drive through the Dixie national forest in loads of snow, looking over the red rocks of Bryce. Then the road turns in to a hairy narrow pass called Hells Backbone before arriving at Escalante.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park


We pitch up at this state park campsite for 2 nights. The campsite is nice with a good shower block and spacious sites. It is next to a big reservoir. A herd of deer come down to the camp at dusk, plus rabbits at the tent and lots of different birds. It is absolutely freezing at night, we’re told it dropped to -8’c. I’m so thankful for my goose down sleeping bag. We head out on the Petrified Forest trail which takes us out the back of the campsite, up the hill and on to a flat top. The petrified logs are amazing, so many different colours like gemstones. We take a side hike down in to a valley where there are huge detailed logs. They have a big problem with people stealing these rocks, I can see why – they are beautiful.

We spot some slot canyons (Peekaboo and Spooky) on the Grand Staircase park map. A lot of this park is off-road or gravel road but evidently you don’t need 4 wheel drive to get to the slot canyons. We head off through Escalante and pull off on to the Hole in the Rock Road which rapidly turns into a pot holed, rutted dirt road, that Rich gallantly tackles for an hour to go 20 miles. As we turn off on to a side road for the canyons the truck is tipped from side to side and feels like it will topple over. It’s worth the effort though. We clamber down some slick rock for a half mile and find the end of the 6 mile canyon that is shoulder width in places. The canyon walls are 20 foot high and sunlight streams in and makes the red walls glow. It’s getting a bit late so Rich takes some photos and we haul ourselves back up the steep slick rock to have another bumpy hour back to the campsite.


Kodachrome Basin and Bryce Canyon National Park


A short drive from Escalante is a lovely state park campsite at Kodachrome Basin. We stayed here around 5 years ago. It has lovely pitches, nice shower blocks, very quiet and really sunny. It’s great to feel some heat on us at last and I get to sunbathe. The campsite has a big appendage shaped rock towering over it which makes us giggle. There are a number of nice hikes around the park and also another terrible dirt track to a natural arch called Grosvenor Arch. At dusk, we see a really big jack rabbit and a smaller rabbit round the tent. The temperature plummets at dark to -8’c, so we get undercover and all wrapped up as quickly as possible.

We get up one morning at 4:30am in the freezing pitch dark and drive the route out to Bryce Canyon National Park, about 20 miles. It’s a little hairy, especially with little rabbits and a huge owl flying out in front of us. We creep through the park in really deep snow either side of the road and head up to Bryce Point to set up on the overlook. It’s quite creepy in the dark. The sun peeps over the horizon and starts to light the Bryce Amphitheatre around 6:30am. It’s wonderful to watch the light change minute by minute. Bryce is one of those places you have to see to believe. We’ve visited before, but not at sunrise; definitely the best time to see it.

Zion National Park


It’s a scenic drive from Bryce to Zion park through bright red canyons. We slowly see a reduction in the snow on the ground and things start to get greener and lusher. The drive through the east side of Zion is gorgeous, big soaring cliffs and white checkerboard mesa. The road winds round to the Watchman campground and we check in to our pitch for 3 nights. It’s quite an open site but green and amongst the trees, with towering cliffs all round. It’s a lot warmer here than Kodachrome. The local town of Springdale is quaint and handy for laundry and food. There are some great walks here.

We spend an afternoon in the washes looking for slot canyons. The mile long canyon overlook hike gives a spectacular view down to the valley floor. We’re also treated to a very close encounter with 3 Bighorn sheep and a lamb. A rare pleasure as they are endangered animals. Some very wet weather spoils our day out on the Emerald Pools trail but we get a little bit of time to see the waterfall at the top.
The Weeping Rock trail is interesting as there is a waterfall here that wasn’t running on our last visit. The wildflowers haven’t really come out yet although we see a few species on the Riverside Walk as well as the infamous “killer” squirrels that are known to bite little fingers that try and feed them.