Our Western Trip: Utah


One thing about full-time RVing is the knowledge you gain through meeting many other people who have experienced the lifestyle for some time. Whether it is giving you a helping hand with a repair problem or having conversations about travel, you definitely benefit from the experience of others. We have been fortunate to meet several people who have extensively traveled the United States and Canada living the RV lifestyle. One consistent theme has been a universal admiration for Utah.
We got to experience that admiration firsthand as we traveled from Northern Arizona to Utah. As we left Williams, Arizona by way of Flagstaff, we left I-40 and ventured north up Route 89. We did not expect to have a ride with the fantastic scenery that we were gifted with almost the entire way. Our GPS had us leave Route 89 in Northern Arizona and crossover on Route 89A which took us on a visual adventure through the Kaibab National Forest north of the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.
The first junction of the roadway ran along the Vermillion Cliffs which are the first plateau which begin the series of plateaus making up the Grand Staircase. I had heard of the Grand Staircase, but naively thought that it was a monument-size formation. Instead, the staircase is a series of massive plateaus hundreds of miles wide building all the way through northern Arizona and across southern Utah.

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The Vermillion Cliffs

The ride was a steady climb through the mountains across northern Arizona and eventually into southwestern Utah. At one juncture we found a rest area where I could add some fuel from the store that we carry with us for just this kind of circumstance. There was a stone observation area where we were able to view Zion National Park and the Grand Staircase Escalante from hundreds of miles away.

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The distant view of Zion and The Grand Staircase Escalante
We finally made our way into Utah and enjoyed a consistent view of the mountains. The unique view presented colorful mountains striations below the snow-covered higher mountain ranges above and behind those vibrant colors. It sometimes becomes difficult to focus on driving when views as beautiful as these compete for your attention.

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We found our RV park in Hurricane, Utah. We pulled into Willow Wind RV Park, which was situated directly behind the main thoroughfare in town. Once we turned off the main road, with heavy traffic and many retail stores and businesses, and turned into the park, we were in a different world. The park brags about being shielded from the busy road and lived up to that boast. We were suddenly in a very quiet, well-manicured, tree-lined environment that somehow was shielded from the noise and bustle of the busy street right in front of it.
We learned later that the natives of Hurricane strongly prefer the pronunciation “Hurrikin. It is a very nice town offering any kind of goods and services one would need. There is a very nice golf course that I unfortunately did not have time to enjoy, but I did enjoy the range which provided stunning views while I frustratingly tried to hit balls after a very long absence from that activity. The view almost made up for my ineptitude.
Hurricane was chosen as a stop for its proximity to Zion National Park.

We set out on a Monday morning to enjoy the park. The drive to the park was another series of tremendous views. As we got closer and entered the town of Springdale, we began to see signs for shuttles into the park. Springdale has a series of hotels and inns as well as restaurants and stores. We ignored the shuttle signs and drove into the park only to witness mass chaos at the visitor center. The parking lots were jammed with cars waiting to find a spot and hundreds of people waiting in lines for park shuttles. We drove through once and found no spots. On the second attempt through we came across a car leaving right across from the visitor center. I squeezed the truck into the spot and we went in to get some orientation to the park.
We have found that a review of the National Parks website at each park gives us a decent overview of important or popular sites and other features that we may want to experience, but hitting the visitor center allows you to speak to a ranger and ask questions of someone who really understands the park and its current conditions. We also began a tradition while in Canada last summer of collecting commemorative magnets from each significant site we visited and placing them on the refrigerator. We get the park magnets at the visitor center. At this point we are losing site of our refrigerator doors.
We could not get close to any person providing information at the visitor center. The crowds were too much. We also decided that we were not interested in waiting in lines for a shuttle. Our fear was that we would spend more hours waiting for shuttles in the park than we would seeing things. We made our way out of the parking lot with the idea that we would just drive through and make our own way through. We soon found out that we had chosen to visit during school vacation week in Utah just as we had hit the vacation week at the Grand Canyon the week before.
One of the main roads was closed to auto traffic due to the current conditions so we were forced to the road straight ahead of us. What was immediately apparent was the road was a steep and winding road with no guardrails that climbed a mountain onto the other side. We were not absolutely sure where it was going but there was no way to turn back that we had encountered for the first ten minutes or so although there was some traffic traveling in the opposite direction occasionally.

 


After finding a place to pull over and take some pictures, as well as reviewing the map for a better idea of where we were headed, we decided to turn around if the opportunity arose. Some distance ahead we had to make our way around a spot where a crew was shoring up some deterioration of the roadside along the cliff. This was not a fun maneuver, but we survived. A little further up we came across a spot where we could pull off and turn around so we did for the descent off the mountain.
After exiting the mountain trail, we found a safer and calmer route through another section of the park. Every scenic pull-off along the way was jammed with cars and shuttles. There were even cars parked in areas where they should not be, either making passage rough or putting the cars themselves in precarious positions. We stopped momentarily in some spots to quickly exit and take a picture jumping right back in and moving along. After a short while of traveling through the park like this, we decided to exit the park and go back to Springdale to enjoy the town a bit.
We surprisingly found a place to park and walked through the town which offered a few memorable views of the mountains as well. We stopped at a store offering western jewelry and art and had a quick lunch at a little street-side bistro.
Our next destination in Utah was the Bryce Canyon area. We had heard that the snow we experienced in Arizona had traveled up to the Bryce area and had deposited a fair amount on that area. I called ahead to make sure that we would be able to get there and into our campground. I was assured that everything was fine and clear.
The next day we departed from Hurricane to make our way to Cannonville, Utah in the area of Bryce Canyon National Park. As was becoming customary we had to travel through the mountains providing some fantastic views. The views were ratcheted up a few notches when we turned off of Route 89 onto Route 12 which is designated as a “scenic byway” and listed as one of the top twenty-five scenic roads in America. The red rock and sandstone became more prevalent and the rock formations were different than what we had witness to this point. We traveled through a couple of natural rock arches along the way. This road was where we were first introduced to the stacked rock formations we would later be able to label as “Hoodoos”. We would see several more in this part of the trip and later in Utah. It is amazing that nature has carved out these formations that seem to defy physics and gravity with a series of rocks seeming to sit on top of the one below without toppling over. The fact is that it is all the same piece of stone that wind, snow and rain has carved out to appear as if rocks are set on top of each other.

 


We made our way to the Cannonville/Bryce KOA after passing the road for the park some nine miles before. The entire area was somewhat isolated with the only stores and services to speak of either near the park or in the small town of Tropic. The KOA did not look like much as we pulled in, but after closer examination the setting was very scenic and the property actually was much larger than we initially thought with several very nice cabins on the upper levels. There was really no sign of the snow that had been rumored in the area.
We decided to go to Bryce Canyon on Saturday morning. We thought getting an early start would be a good idea given our experience at Zion. It was quite cold as we left the campground. As we entered the road into the park, we began to see the level of snow that we had heard about. There was at least a foot or more of snow in most of the wooded areas and piled up along the roads.
There were very few cars in the parking lot so we found parking very easily. We found out that most of the overlooks were open but the furthest area that was accessible was Inspiration Point. Beyond that point areas that offered opportunities for hiking were still closed due to the snow.
We drove along the main road as far out as we were allowed and stopped first at Inspiration Point. The area is appropriately named. There were some visitors enjoying the view but not the overwhelming crowds we had experiences at the Grand Canyon and Zion. As we walked up to the viewing area, we witnessed a woman jumping up on the wooden barrier fence to sit atop it so her male friend could take her picture. Directly behind her was about a forty-foot drop into that part of the canyon. The question was why was a picture sitting on the fence, and putting yourself in danger, that much better than just standing in front of the fence? These are the kind of actions that fly in the face of logic given the number of people who have fallen to their deaths at parks this year.
We were able to easily able to find parking and access at several other lookout sites offering staggering views of the partially snow-covered canyon. At the Sunset Point the recent snow hand partially eroded the pathway to the lookout area and left part of it ice-covered making the walk a bit dangerous. I was very careful navigating the path and was glad I had worn hiking boots.

 

Inspiration Point 
At Sunrise Point there was a long walkway along the lookout with a guardrail along the cliffs. I was standing on the path waiting for Eileen to catch up as I spied a small toddler, probably around two, escape his parents and dart from them with freedom in mind. As he got closer to me, I judged that his father was not going to catch him for some distance. Instinctively I reached out, and gently as I could, grabbed him by the jacket and halted his progress. He was a little shocked and looked up at me quizzically but did not cry. The parents thanked me and we all laughed as we assured them that we had lived this potential nightmare before and had toddler grandchildren who we were now chasing as well. We shared how we had used a leash for our son when he was two and we had visited Disney World. Had we not, he probably would have been lost there forever and become a permanent Disney cast member.

 


After leaving the park, we both agreed that with the snow cover, Bryce Canyon was not only a different visual experience but the most beautiful scenery we had seen yet. The red colors and the detailed and sculpted edges made the visual varied and interesting. The hundreds of hoodoos throughout the landscape were testament to the power, endurance, and intricacy of Mother Nature.
We left the Bryce Canyon area we had the good fortune to have to continue on Scenic Byway 12 and onto Route 89 and I-70 on our way to Moab, Utah. The drive took us on ride through the Manti-Le Sal National Forest and the upper regions of Capitol Reef National Park. There were several pull-offs to view stunning scenery. There were so many pull-offs, and we frustratingly could not stop at most or we would have added hours to the trip.

 


We left I-70 and traveled on Route 191 into a very busy ten-twelve miles through Moab to our destination, OK RV Park in Spanish Valley just outside of Moab. Moab is a very popular destination especially during the early spring when we arrived. The area features close access to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. It also is a popular site for off-road vehicles as evidenced by the number of ATVs we witnessed around town. Moab offers many bars, restaurants and family-friendly attractions as well.
OK RV Park was a smaller RV park that caters mostly to seasonal or long-term RVers. We had reserved a pull-through site, but the site was actually a site on the left side of a large parking lot area with sites on either side. The site pulled right up to the entrance road so we were witness to almost everyone who entered and left the RV park. The only saving grace to being on the road side was that we were directly across from a quarter horse training facility. More than once we were able to watch horses taken through their paces on the track.
We visited Arches National Park on one of the first couple of days in the area. We arrived fairly early and were able to easily get a parking space and access to the visitor center. We then made the steep climb into the park. There were many interesting and iconic rock structures and formations to view and we able to find parking along the way which allowed us to walk the areas and see some of the structures up close – or as close as was comfortable. As we had witnessed in several places at this point, it was amazing to see what had been carved out of the area over millions of years. As we were leaving the park hours later the line of cars waiting to enter was at least a mile long. We had learned that early arrival was essential.

 

Images from Arches 
When we planned to be in this area the focus had been Arches. Canyonland is seen as playing second fiddle to Arches. We decided that we could not leave the area until we had given Canyonland its due. It was very easy to get in and around Canyonland even with a later start. Much like Bryce Canyon, travel through the park is basically a straight road with several scenic lookouts along the way as well as hiking areas for those interested in hiking. We stopped at several spots to see differing views of the canyons. Canyonland afforded a different viewpoint of the expansive canyons and reminded me in some ways of Death Valley in terms of the expansive view of the canyon floor.

 

Images of Canyonland 
Canyonland is not viewed fairly. It may not have some of the familiar and iconic rock formations of Arches, but it has a unique majesty and beauty all its own. We traveled to the outermost view which is Grandview Point. As I approached the viewing area, which has a stone knee-wall where you can stand a bit back from the edge, there were people walking along the edge. Two young girls were sitting at the edge with their legs hanging over. I took some photos and decided to leave when I saw a woman with younger children, maybe between eight and ten, all hanging out near the edge with the kids engaged in innocent horse play. I decided to leave before I had to witness a tragedy.
After a rest day, we left the Moab area for the trip out of Utah and onto Cortez, Colorado. We decided that we could not attempt to pull through our pull-though site to leave. There was a tree on our right that made the tight turn onto the exit road difficult at best, and at worst, impossible. We were fortunate that we had plenty of lot behind us so we could back up and sneak out another road onto the main road. It is interesting what some parks define as “pull through”.
Despite our interesting exit, we thoroughly enjoyed our travel through Utah. It is one of the most beautiful and visually interesting places we have been so far. There are hundreds of miles of mountain views and a wide variety of scenery to keep the traveler interested and anticipating. Utah is definitely a place we would like to revisit in the future.

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