Driving to the western part of Utah was a huge adventure. Along the way we encountered a mini snow storm and freezing temperatures that appeared out of the blue. The snow and hail eventually subsided and turned into the most relentless wind we have ever experienced. For 24 hours it felt like a tea kettle was whistling wildly with no way to calm it down. The good news is, I realized I need a new book asap. I was on a really great reading streak that ended over the last month. When we couldn't go outside, and lost Internet connectivity entirely, I desperately longed for another great book in hand. I just ordered "Greenwood: A Novel of a Family Tree in a Dying Forest" and cannot wait to get lost in great reads again.
On our way to St. George we had some sights we planned to visit, which we cancelled due to the weather. We did make a quick stop to The Sand Hollow Water Reservoir to enjoy the views offered at this desert oasis. Even with uncomfortable wind gusts, the sights of the canyons juxtaposed with the aqua waters drew me in for as long as I was able to tolerate the cold air. Utah doesn't disappoint. No matter the time of day, location, weather, etc... there will always be something waiting to take your breath away.
We rented a house, Desert Lily, through airbnb, which was comfortable and spacious for our group. Due to the high winds, the entire area lost Internet connectivity for a full day which obviously is not ideal with three kids learning remotely. Thank goodness for phone hot spots! The house was large, clean, in a good location and had more space than we needed but there was something about the feng shui that didn't sit well with both myself and my husband. At first we thought the home's décor was a bit too contemporary for our taste but then we realized something bigger than aesthetics was causing both of us to feel "off" during our stay here. The house has eighty-nine 4.98 reviews. People loved their stay here and rave about the rental. Yet somehow the space wasn't conducive to a relaxing atmosphere for my hubby and I (our children loved it!). I tend to be very in tune with energy emitted by people and spaces. Perhaps its' not the home that is problematic but instead, the energy left behind by the almost ninety people who stayed here before us. I can't quite put my finger on it but there is another lesson to be learned here about listening, accepting and trusting our gut.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
3,700 acres of the softest, creamiest sand call to your feet urging them to make immediate contact while you make a run for the dunes. We've been to many beaches and the sand here can't be matched. We couldn't stop running our fingers through it. When the sun hit it just right it looked like gold was pouring out of our hands.
Sandboards and sleds can be rented at the Visitor's Center on a first come, first serve basis. The kids had so much fun sliding down the gigantic sand dune we selected as our sliding base. Walking to its' peak was too difficult for me, I only made it up twice. Kids... they have an endless amount of energy and walked up that beast numerous times without ever being deterred by the difficulty of getting to the top with a board in hand. Honestly, watching them tremendously enjoying themselves was fun enough for me. At first we had a hard time sliding down the mountain. We were advised by the man at the Visitor's Center not to put a lot of wax on the board. A nice man who saw us struggling told us the opposite- "douse the boards in wax". Once we tried this tip, off they went! We spent over two hours in the sun and sand cracking up at all the spills and faces planted into the sand. As an audience member I had some great laughs - nothing like live slapstick comedy!
Snow Canyon State Park
This area was discovered by Mormons in the mid- 1800s when they were searching for cattle. I always imagine what it was like to be one of the pioneers who came across these incredible Utah sites. The parks here continue to offer new sceneries and landscapes. Nature skipped over any traces of redundancies while painting Utah. There are several trails to explore in Snow Canyon varying in length and difficulty. We chose Butterfly Trail and Jenny's Trail.
Named after two stones that resemble the wings of a butterfly, the trail is utterly breathtaking. A mix of plants like sage brush and desert scrub, petrified dunes, golden sand, smooth slickrock and lava rocks make up the vast vistas here. Climbing down the large, downhill rock formations is a fun beginning to the trail which is 1.2 miles, round trip. Besides the initial part of the hike that has masterful rock formations which descend into the trail making it a bit tricky to get down (and ascend on the way out) this is a fairly easy trail. My favorite section is the one with the large lava rocks. You can still see where the lava poured through 1.5 millions year ago as the river-like formation remains in its' exact place so many years later.
Less than a five minute drive from Butterfly Trail, Jenny's Canyon is a short, half mile round trip trail with big offerings. This small slot canyon has such a spiritual vibe. Towards its back end, where the light doesn't cast its' magic, the dark rocks are reminiscent of a European cathedral. There is something calming and soothing in this space. Our kids were immediately drawn to the many inviting nooks.
Later I learned that the canyon is named after a young girl who fell off a nearby cliff in 1994. Ugh. I'd like to think it was her spirit that I connected with in that space. I'm not sure if it was Jenny, but I definitely felt something (or someone).
This is the most accessible slot canyon in Utah and is an extremely easy hike that is suitable for even toddlers. The light in the afternoon was beautiful.
Booking a private jeep tour with East Zion Adventures is probably my biggest road trip planning accomplishment yet. Our guide took us to two unbelievably gorgeous slot canyons that even most locals do not know about. Everyone has Antelope Canyon on their slot canyon bucket list but these two are equally stunning and mostly untouched. We had them all to ourselves. Antelope Canyon is closed during the pandemic so we were unable to explore it but now that we have visited these beauties I can scratch Antelope off my bucket list. I just can't imagine it being anymore beautiful than the ones we explored here.
Orderville is roughly 30 minutes outside of Zion National Park. We met our guide at Ponderosa Ranch and then drove over to Orderville to switch into our jeep. Our ride resembled a Disney roller-coaster with bumps galore and some major thrills at fast turns on high and narrow trails. Our oldest son said he felt like he was in a virtual reality simulation. The wind, sound of the engine, hands clamped tight on the bars, and jaw dropping scenery certainly made the experience feel unreal.
Upper Red Cave
Lower Red Cave
Ten minutes away through sandy terrain lies another undiscovered slot canyon. I really struggle with how to describe the sensations we all experienced walking through them. I felt enveloped and hugged by miracles and magic. The lighting added to the dramatic scenery and each angle and curve just blew us away. The kids couldn't stop thanking us for booking this excursion. Seeing these in person is definitely a highlight of all our travels to date.
Zion National Park
This massive park is one of the best known and most visited parks in the USA. There are endless trails and activities to be enjoyed here. One can easily spend a week here without getting bored. Sadly we were unable to spend much time in Zion. Even in the glimpse we were able to catch while driving through for an hour or so with some stops to soak in the views at lookout points, we were able to grasp its' bewitching effects. This park remains on our list of places to delve into more deeply. One day we must come back to get to know her better. Camping here is in our future. Watching the sun set over her mountains as they glowed in delight was an epic way to end our visit to Utah.
I am beyond grateful for the two weeks we have spent in the various parts of Utah. If you don't believe in miracles, visiting the state will convince you otherwise. From the outside everything appears the same: long stretches of red canyons. Then, you make the effort to get to know a path better and you find layers and layers of magic. Each park and trail offers something completely unique. Somehow every environment seems to get more and more beautiful. There are few words to describe the omnipotent effect Utah has on its' visitors.
Add Utah to your list. ASAP.