Between our month-long house sit in Rollinsville, Colorado and the next, three-month one in San Diego, California, Mark and I faced a gap of two weeks. Initially, we were on the look-out for a short pet sit, but pretty soon, we realized this would be the perfect opportunity to really test the van life. Longer than one weekend, and for fun, instead of as a means of transportation to get from point A to B. It was an attractive plan for many reasons, including these four: we have always wanted to visit some of Utah’s incredible National Parks, they happened to be en route, we could use a break from our computers (when not?), and, coincidentally, our business partner appeared to have a scheduled vacation within the exact dates we’d be on the road. Now, if that wasn’t the ideal time to relax The Wirie work a bit ourselves!
Arches National Park
Not much planning and anticipation went into this camping trip. I checked the map, saw Canyonlands, thought “I guess we stop there,” then noticed a green spot called “Arches” along the way and yelled: “Oh yeah, that’s the famous one in Utah, not Canyonlands. We have to go there!” Now, I don’t know whether you have ever looked at Southern Utah on a map… it is one national park after the next! How exciting! All we had to do was pick and choose, be happy about not doing it all, and not feel rushed! Oh, did I mention that the two biggies, Bryce Canyon and Zion are here as well?
Anyway, after a full day of driving – Let’s get the heck out of cold Colorado! – we parked Zesty in the desert for free, and entered Arches National Park the next morning. We only devoted one day to this incredible park, which is very doable. The scenic drive is 18 miles long and offers a lot of fabulous views and pullouts. Some of these were closed during our visit mid-October 2017, due to road work. Parking is limited everywhere, as this is a very popular park. Mark and I managed to do most of the hikes and were awe-inspired by the sight and location of Delicate Arch. Total steps: 24,500 (11.1 miles, 143 floors).
Canyonlands National Park
To really get to the bottom of this park, quite literally, one needs to be better equipped than us. Having a 4WD vehicle, motorbike, bicycle or kayak, lets you explore the expansive network of dirt roads and rivers in the canyon. This massive park consists of four regions, of which we only touched the Island in the Sky section. We followed the entire length of the paved scenic road, stopped at all the overlooks, gazed deep into the red and purple canyon and completed our daytrip with three hikes. The Grand View Point trail offered the most stunning scenery. Total steps: 14,400 (6.5 miles).
Capitol Reef National Park
An underdog in the world of national parks, Capitol Reef is quite large as well, but the most popular section – the Fruita historic District and the paved, 8-mile scenic drive – is small enough to visit in one day. Unfortunately, free fruit picking in the orchards ended a few days prior to our arrival, but the weather remained pleasant, the park was not too crowded and we ticked off all the things on our to-do list here. The highlight? A bumpy drive through the narrow canyon to Capital Gorge with Zesty. We figured this was as close as it would get to 4X4ing in Canyonlands. Total steps: 13,500 (6.1 miles).
Bryce Canyon National Park
The clouds rolled in for our three-day visit to Bryce Canyon. It was a relatively long drive to get there, but we were determined to go for a walk upon arrival, late afternoon. We were not in the greatest moods, a bit stressed, and totally unaware of what to expect at the trail head on the canyon wall. That’s when we stumbled across this view:
Needless to say, our jaws dropped, our spirits lifted and we had an amazing 3-mile hike down and back up Bryce’s Amphitheater. The free campground was – unbelievably – within walking distance of the park. The entrance sign was a mere ¼ mile of our spot in the woods. Total steps day 1: 13,900 (6.3 miles).
Bryce Canyon delivered. The viewpoints along the scenic drive were spectacular, but we felt most inspired and entertained on the walks we did. Total steps day 2: 12,900 (5.8 miles).
The morning before we left, we completed the 8-mile Fairyland Loop. Highly recommended. Total steps day 3: 23,000 (10.5 miles).
Mark and I had a pit-stop in Cedar City to visit our friend Karl. If anyone is interested in my memoir, he is the “other guy” I shared a fragment about in this post. We also appreciated a real bed for two nights, a great shower, and unlimited electricity and internet to catch up on work. Total steps: 4000.
Zion National Park
Then, it was time for the King of Utah National Parks (and its first), at least in the public opinion. Zion is so busy that even towards the end of October, using the free shuttle bus to get around was still a requisite. The sun returned, but the mountains provided almost constant shade. We dedicated about three days to this visit and opted to camp inside the park for full immersion. It meant, we could slow down a bit. A little bit.
The main draw and activity in Zion is hiking, and we did plenty of that. On the day of arrival, after a brief stop and hike in the northern section, called Kolob Canyon, we hiked the steep, and for some, scary, Hidden Canyon Trail, the Weeping Rock Trail and the Riverside Walk. Total steps day 1: 21,000 (9.5 miles, 125 floors).
Day 2 revolved around the most scary and strenuous hike of the park: Angels Landing. This 5.5-mile RT trail goes up, up, up one way, and, you guessed it, down, down, down on the return. After the incredibly steep and dizzying switchbacks of The Wiggles (21 in total), the last part of the hike is utterly daunting, on a physical, as well as a mental level. You climb the vertical face of a mountain, holding on to chains, while staring into the deep beyond. People have died here. Mark skipped this last 0.5 mile, I plowed on, seriously out of breath at times, but having a ball. Almost as invigorating as sailing fast! Towards the end, there were no more chains and you balanced on a not too wide ridge, sheer drops on either side. The view on top was anti-climactic, but the experience was one-of-a-kind. Total steps day 2: 15,900 (7.2 miles, 127 floors).
On our last morning in Zion, we walked to the Lower, Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, connecting to the Kayenta Trail, which brought us to a different shuttle bus stop. Then, we drove Zesty through a tunnel we barely cleared and hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail to conclude our visit to this – in our opinion – slightly overrated and over-crowded park. Total steps day 3: 27,000 (12.2 miles).
Las Vegas, NV
We made a quick stop in Vegas for the night. Just because it was on our way. Our destination the next day was Palm Desert in California to meet some blogging pals for the first time. More about that in a future blog post!
Apart from diesel expenses, alcohol (hey, we were on a workation!), and money for groceries to make dinners in de camper, we spent $40 for 2 nights in a basic campground inside Zion National Park. All other camping spots were free, and we did not have to pay entrance for the parks (some of these had a $30 price tag) since Mark and I have an annual National Park pass that we have used at least ten times by now.
Have you been to any of these places before? What is your favorite, and why?