We have been fortunate enough to have taken some great traveling adventures over the years and have visited some pretty spectacular places. The Southwestern United States definitely makes the top ten list of most epic areas we've visited in our travels. The landscape is so vibrant, so crisp, so surreal... I often wondered out loud if what we were looking at was a fragment of my imagination.
The landscape is otherworldly. There were many moments when it felt like we just discovered a new planet, most likely Mars' sister planet. During our road trip we have been consistently blown away by our country's beauty but Utah is on a whole other level.
The only negative thing I can mention about Utah is that NO ONE here is masked. Not the tourists, not the employees, no one. This is the one place we have had moments of feeling really uncomfortable and too close for Covid comfort. We even asked for our guide in a private excursion that we booked to wear a mask. He didn't. It's just not a thing here. Utah is a hotspot for cases right now and yet no one seems even slightly fazed by the high number of cases in the state. Clearly everyone is paralyzed by the surroundings' overwhelming beauty to even realize there is a pandemic taking place.
In retrospect, we made a bad move booking a hotel in Lake Powell, Arizona rather than Lake Powell, Utah (just 5 minutes apart). The constant crisscrossing between Arizona and Utah for the nearby sites, with both states being in different time zones, made tracking time challenging and forced us into waking up at 5:00am to meet 8:30am EST commitments for work and school. Yet, we adjusted and the blurring of time enhanced the ethereal experience of being here. We were sucked into a beautiful black hole filled with red clay not knowing where we were or what time it was. Waking up at 5:00am sucked but once we surrendered to getting lost in the abyss of time and space we maximized our eight glorious days here.
We stayed at The Hyatt in Page, AZ. Their extremely reasonable prices allowed us to book four rooms so that each child had their own room/space for their schooling hours. The WiFi was fantastic making remote schooling as smooth as possible. The location of the hotel is wonderful and the outdoor patio boasts fantastic views, I couldn't dream of a better office space.
There really are no words to describe the infinite beauty in Utah. Rather than try to describe it, I will share our itinerary in hopes that it makes it easy for you to plan your trip to Utah because everyone should experience it at least once.
From Santa Fe we drove towards Monument Valley, Utah. The six hour drive took us through gorgeous sites packing our drive with major eye candy. We did hit an obstacle with a lack of water. When we left Santa Fe we planned to stop at the first shop we passed to load up on water bottles. We never expected to drive almost six hours before finding a solution to hydrate. The Navajo Reservation spans almost the entirety of the drive towards Monument Valley and while there are tons of shops and gas stations along the way, they were all closed. All state parks on Navajo land are closed due to Covid and we learned the hard way that everything on the reservation was closed too. Luckily a Hamptons Inn was open and sold us water bottles just in time to satiate our thirst before arriving at Monument Valley. After the park, we drove one mile to Goulding's Lodge which had an open market and stocked up on more water knowing that we might not have another hydrating station for the hours ahead. Anyone driving through this area during the pandemic should make sure to be very well stocked with water!
Monument Valley was closed. Although we weren't able to hike through the park, we were able to enjoy its' most iconic rock formations through various vantage points. We couldn't resist heading over to Forrest Gump Hill for some fun photos and truly remarkable views. Gosh this country is gorgeous.
On the way to Utah we had a blast weaving in and out of Utah, Colorado and Arizona within minutes. Their borders (along with New Mexico's) all come together at the famous Four Corners. Unfortunately, this monument was closed too but we didn't feel like we missed out since we were able to monitor where the borders met on our GPS screen. I never imagined I could be in four states at once!
We began the day early and took a two hour drive to Grand Staircase Escalante. One hour of the drive is on an unpaved dirt road suited best for 4 x 4s. The rugged drive was a treat in itself adding to the adventure of reaching this remote and difficult to access landmark. There are two ways to enter The Cottonwood Trail - the north trail and the south trail. We started at the south trail entrance, which I highly recommend because the beauty continues to escalate along the path with a big finale of canyon slots towards the end. The hike was an overall easy one, with some parts requiring boulder climbing. The terrain cannot be described with words. We were all left speechless after this hike, feeling overwhelmed and humbled by the wonders of nature. Over the two and a half hour hike we crossed paths with less than ten other folks which made the isolated journey even more remarkable.
Next we drove an hour and a half to Bryce Canyon National Park. We opted to begin by visiting several of the majestic view points: Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Rainbow Point, beginning at 8,100 feet and slowly ascending another thousand feet. The views once again were mind blowing. My brain literally had a hard time processing the sights. We were on top of an unreal, painting-like landscape, as if we were locked in some virtual reality capsule where we had a birds eye view of the epic terrain. The pictures don't capture the striking rock formations that span along the canyons thousands of feet below.
After driving to the various look out points we headed to Navajo Trail for two short yet unforgettable trails: Wall Street and Two Bridges.
At Wall Street visitors begin at the top of the canyon and zig zag down hundreds of feet into a small cave at the bottom of the valley that has one lonesome tree right smack in the middle of nowhere. Mother Nature never seizes to amaze. It gets chilly as you descend so bring an extra layer!
Two Bridges, just a few feet away from Wall Street's entrance, exposes a completely different viewpoint although equally stunning in its own right.
It's almost impossible to capture all the details with an iPhone camera. Each one of us was able to spot a face, a figure, a finger pointing to the sky, a bird, etc... carved into the rock formations. I can only imagine what the Native Americans believed when they discovered this site. They were constantly surrounded by Godly signs as we were when we visited all these years later. The canyons radiate spiritual vibes.
We rented a boat through Renegade Boat Rentals and spent eight heavenly hours on the lake soaking in the sights and sun and having a blast tubing in the warm waters that alter from bright green to deep blue hues.
A friend recommended we visit Rainbow Bridge while in the area. The park is closed and all tours to the park are closed as well. When we rented the boat I asked if we were able to access the site on our own. For just a few extra bucks than it would have cost the five of us on a seven hour organized tour, with other tourists, we were able to have our own boat for the day and still access the park with barely anyone around. Any family visiting once the pandemic ends should consider renting a private boat to enjoy the lake at their own pace while still experiencing this sacred site. It is so hard to absorb this monument's grandeur. To help place it into context, from its' base to its' height, the arch is almost as tall as the Statute of Liberty. The trail leading up to it is so majestic and ominous, you'll forget you're looking for the bridge!
Since this was a school day for the kids, we waited until after lunch to take a walk over to the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge to revel in this magnificent man made structure that is suspended seven hundred feet in the air. Each time a truck drove by the bridge would rattle and my heart would pound. For those like me that don't like heights, this is a thrill ride!
In the evening we booked a private "sunset & stars" jeep tour with Epic Adventures. The excursion was pretty epic and lived up to its' name. We drove in a buggy through the rugged terrain of the Grand Staircase Escalante ascending towards peaks that boasted incredible views as the sunset began to paint the sky with beautiful hues. Our tour guide, Mark, has lived in Utah for forty years and is one with the land sharing so many interesting facts about the landscape. This guy even has a sweat lodge in his back yard! Once the stars came out we were silenced by the sky above us. The milky way was so visible, Mars shown bright red, Jupiter twinkled, satellites orbited above us... we were able to see all this with our naked eyes! As if this tour wasn't incredible enough we then proceeded to hunt for scorpions in the pitch blackness of the night. The kids squealed with joy as we spotted a few of these not-so-cute fellas. What a night!
Wednesdays are busy school days for the kids. It seems to be the day they have the most homework and our daughter also has after school dance class. Today we took it easy and walked a lovely trail behind the hotel, The Page Rimview Trail. This is a ten mile trail popular with mountain bikers that overlooks canyons and parts of Lake Powell. While lodging at The Hyatt, I loved walking this trail early morning just when the sun began to rise and the temperature was perfectly cool. Later in the day we went to one of the Glen Canyon lookout points to soak up stunning views of Lake Powell. Of course, throwing some rocks over the edge (safely) couldn't be missed, boys just seem to love doing this whenever possible. We noted how huge the canyons seemed when we spent the day on the lake yet how tiny they appeared from the look out point about seven hundred feet higher. Perspective changes everything. Literally.
Thursdays are the only weekday when no one has an extracurricular after school activity freeing up some time to explore a bit further than home base. Today we jumped in the car and drove an hour to Buckskin Gulch with the hopes of embarking on a 3.5 mile hike on the Wire Pass Trailhead. On the way to the trail, we got distracted by a sign pointing to "Buckskin Gulch" and took that path instead of sticking to our original plan. The hike was a lovely one with lots of yellow wildflowers in a vast, green meadow. Honestly, after 1.5 miles of walking under full sun exposure we had enough of the scenery. Slightly disappointed that we didn't find the slot canyon we were searching for, we returned to the car exhausted and thirsty after trekking for three miles in high temperatures. Still motivated, we decided to have a go on the initial trail we planned for, Wire Pass Trailhead. After walking .7 miles in a similar landscape we decided to just head back to the car. We were just beat. When we got back to the hotel we learned that if we were just a little more patient a gorgeous gulch would have welcomed us at the 1.7 mile mark of The Wire Pass Trail, which was what we were looking for all along. We never made it to the gulch but we did learn a good lesson in trusting our instinct (we should have stuck to our original researched trail), being patient (we were so so close to what we were seeking) and that one can never pack too much water when in the desert.
On our last full day in this area of Utah we contemplated returning to The Wire Pass Trailhead to accomplish our unmet goals from yesterday. It was just too tight with our daughter having a 3:00pm dance class and the sun setting at 6:30pm. The last thing we wanted was to be stuck in darkness on a trail and having to drive back on an unpaved road for eight miles in complete darkness. So, Buckskin Gulch will remain on our list for a future visit.
Our Plan B was a terrific one. Hanging Garden was a short five minute drive from our hotel and an easy hike with jaw dropping, expansive views. As you hike the path you'll suddenly reach a massive rock perched on a hill with lush greens growing right out of its' side. Miles of striated rocks stretch to the horizon and we couldn't resist walking off the path to explore further out. How small we are in this great, big world.
For our final evening, we wanted a pretty memorable end to our stay. We left Horseshoe Bend last on our itinerary to close out this leg in Utah. As the sun began to set we were overtaken by gratitude for having the opportunity to experience this exceptional part of our country.
We got to sleep in, yay! After a week of 5:00am alarms it was nice to start the day slowly. The Hyatt offers a 12:00pm check out further nurturing our goals to calmly get started before loading up the car and heading to our next destination! Off we go Lake Powell. Thank you for the most incredible memories.