Utah’s National Parks: A Dessert Adventure like no other

April, 2010: My Utah trip would truly be an ambitious one for me at the time. I had a little over a week with a thousand plus miles, 5 national parks, & quite a few hikes & sites in mind. A trip like this would instill in me the belief that traveling is best not rushed & that it’s o.k. to leave some things unseen so you have an excuse to return one day.

To start this trip out, I’d fly into Las Vegas. I recall somehow getting a roundtrip & rental car deal super cheap for something like $300. Once I arrived, I wasted no time but to get going on my adventure. My first stop would be The Hoover Dam & Lake Mead. If you’re not from the Western parts of the states, the grand size of the mountains and architecture will stop you in your place. The Hoover Dam is nothing short of gigantic & magnificent. I arrived when the large bridge in the canyon was still under construction.

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Just an amazing marvel of engineering. I then drove past lake mead and through the Valley of Fire. This is a very nice part of the drive. Then again, pretty much most of this trip was. My first National Park destination would be Zion National Park and I would arrive just in time before night fall. As you drive into Zion, you’re greeted by some amazing views of the canyon walls around you. You sit inside a valley along a river that connects to some of the major hikes like Angel’s Landing, The Narrows & Observation Point. I discussed these options with a Park Ranger & though I wanted to do the Narrows more than anything, Angel’s Landing seemed incredible. The lady told me however, that if I wanted a more spectacular view of the canyon that I should do Observation Point. To this day, this park probably still sits at the top of the list of places I would visit again just because I have so much unfinished business there. Observation Point was a real incredible hike. There are parts of the hike where the trail is maybe 3 feet wide before it drops right off the side. To make it more fun, I was here in early April of 2010, and the snow wasn’t quite near done melting yet. To a Wisconsinite, just about anything outside of this state feels like it would be a warmer place, unless it’s Canada, Antarctica or Pluto. I would make it to the very end of the trail and be greeted by one of the most fantastic views I’ve ever seen. This was a moment where I just sat there and took in the picture my eyes were registering and told myself, “I am here. Remember this moment forever.”


How could you not love this view!? And if you look closely to the right of the center of the canyon you can see where Angel’s Landing is & I’d appear to be about twice as high as it. I felt accomplished knowing that I’d only have a day in this park. I’d eventually make it down and be on my way out. I kept wondering if I should forgo other parts of my trip to spend more time here, but I was in the mood for some variety and when my mind gets set on something it’s hard to change. The drive out was a bit fun. I’d next visit Lake Powell Recreation Area, The Rainbow Bridge, Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon. Only thing is, much of Lake Powell & Rainbow Bridge would be forgone because of budgeting. I didn’t have the $100 or whatever it was for the boat tour of the Rainbow Bridge. I was bummed but again, this gives me a reason to return when I become more established one day. I was here at this time after all since it lined up with Spring Break at work. I hadn’t known I’d want to be a School Counselor yet. Heck, I was still looking at being a cop or whatever I could get my hands on. Horseshoe Bend was my favorite part of this area. You park off the side of the road somewhere and just walk west for a mile. The view was stunning.


I can’t stress enough how you get this picture by literally standing on the edge of a cliff that goes straight down. To make things more fun, it was very windy during this part of the trip. I’d then go to check out Antelope Canyon, and while it was pretty crowds were way too large and it was very difficult to get any bit of time for any sort of good artistic shots. Also, it’s best to get a tour around noon so you can throw up some sand to get the sunbeam shots that I did not. Still, my shots weren’t too bad.

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Throughout my trips I was pushing myself to be a better photographer so I could show others just where I’ve been. I feel it adds a high level of appreciation for the beauty that’s out there and only helps others become more motivated to travel. My next stop out of this brief sliver in upper Arizona would take me north to Monument Valley. Checking my time, I wouldn’t have the option of hitting up Mesa Verde National Park or the 4 corners. That’s o.k., because while I’m excited to see Mesa Verde, the 4 corners doesn’t do much for my imagination, especially since it’s not geographically correct. After one of the most beautiful parts of the drive I’d end up in Monument Valley.

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I remember being so excited for this place and feeling so very much let down. I saw so many pictures online of the milky way above Monument Valley. I’d arrive and the Navajo tribal nation just finished construction of some giant hotel. I can’t state enough how much of a stupid eye soar this hotel is. What’s more is I’d be harassed several times about staying in the hotel and not at the primitive campground which was astronomically cheaper. I hate being hounded to spend more money when I’m on a budget I guess, especially when I say, “No thank you.” about what felt like a dozen times. Before I’d get to some pictures the next day, I arrived rather later and needed to rest. As I was sleeping in my car, I’d get woken up about 2 or 3 times by stray dogs right outside my car. They sounded like they were killing each other. What’s funny is all these dogs were medium/smaller sized dogs, but the fact they kept routinely freaking out at god knows what was pretty entertaining. I’d wake up to the views of the 3 main monuments. The sunrise shots were incredible!


After spending some additional time, I’d be on my way further north to Arches & Canyonlands National Park. First up would be Canyonlands then Arches, a place that has captured my imagination ever since I was a child. I remember seeing pictures in classes or while playing the original ‘Carmen Sandiego’ video game on our old early 90’s computer. I’ll talk about Arches first because it’s what’s currently sticking out more in my head. This place was awesome. I’ve never seen anything so ‘delicately’ cool, and delicate seemed to be the most appropriate word as it was the name of the main arch in the park. The Double Arch & The Delicate Arch are still my favorites. The others are very cool, but these were incredible with their sheer size and beauty.

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And before I forget, sorry again to whoever I woke up at the camp site trying to warm up in my car in the middle of the night. It was absolutely freezing at night so I turned my car on with the heat blasting while the doors were already locked. Nothing freaks one out more than the next 5 second scramble for any button to turn the damn alarms off. Though this 5 seconds feels more like 5 minutes. Now for my bit on Canyonlands National Park. Holy hell, what an amazing place. The vast views one encounters in Utah are surreal to say the least. I remember looking at Mesa Arch & The Green River Overlook and just being blown away by the views here. These were just more views that I would just sit and stare at, admiring how amazing it looked to my eyes. Before it got too late, I’d head west to Goblin State Park, Capitol Reef & Bryce Canyon National Parks.

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Goblin State Park was pretty cool. It’s a bunch of rocks that kind of look like what goblins would be I guess. It’s another set of remarkable rock formations in Utah. Reason being I guess is that most of the central western part of the continent used to be under water maybe 1,000,000 years ago and these are some of the cool parts of what’s left behind.

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Next up would be Capitol Reef, then Zion. I didn’t stay in Capitol Reef too long. It was a cool place to drive through and stare up at giant walls that you’d think would be the side of a mountain but it actually part of an old fossilized reef system. There were also some cool petroglyphs. These get the imagination going and make you wonder about some of the shapes these people were carving into the walls long ago.

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Lastly, Bryce Canyon… I got to say this was another national park that didn’t floor me as much as most others would. Bryce is beautiful in the part near where you just get in. The view there is amazing. Just about everything else to me was, meh o.k.. Do consider this though, my opinion is being based on the fact of seeing so many amazing, beautiful, & breath taking variety of views inside of a week & a half. Bryce may have more incredible to me had I seen this first on my trip. It was cool and the main view was amazing, but that was about it. Instead of staying here and doing any hiking, I decided that because of time, I’d head back to Vegas a half day earlier. That way I could spend a day winding down before my flight out.

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As I got into Vegas & my last motel, I think some shitty Howard Johnson or something outside of town, I was going to give the Casino’s a brief shot. Now this is the first time I ever truly gambled. I’m not talking about bingo or $5 card games with your buddies. I am not a gambler so I had no idea what the hell to do. I figured that with the travel budget I set, I had about $20 to spend… Yup, $20. I remember talking to a guy back in Wisconsin who would work out at the gym I worked at. His name was Pete. He hadn’t worked in years and just sat back comfortably off a large inheritance or something, I have no idea. This guy would gamble a lot though and always had the best gambling stories. I told him that I’d be flying into Vegas before I left and that maybe I’d just hit up a slot machine or two. His advice was simple. If a machine was consistent & cold, move on. Play one of the 2 slot machines at the end of any row because casinos want people to see winners as they walk around. Made sense I guess. Well, I was walking around getting no luck anywhere and I was down to my last $10 at the Sahara. I’m not even sure this is there anymore. I got to talking with a really nice old lady and her daughter about random stuff. I told her that I was pretty lucky and didn’t need any money to make me feel any luckier. Before I know it she hit $600 on her slot machine. After she waited about 5 minutes for it to count every last cent, she cashed out. She told me to try her machine and maybe I’d find some good luck with it. Well, that’s exactly what happened. I was about on my last $2 and I hit $120 winning. Soon after, I’d hit $600 just like she did. This was awesome! My trip is paid for! I got up to around $720. I kept rolling to see if it would hit again. Eventually, it got down to $650 so I cashed out. My trip was more than paid for, how awesome is that!?


I felt like quite the hot shot, even though I’m sure my gambling winnings were among some of the smallest in Vegas history. To me, it was pretty huge though.

I did a lot this trip. I sure saw many beautiful places. I just wish I had more time & money at the start, but it’s good to know I have many reasons to come back. Hike in Bryce, do the Narrows & Angels Landing in Zion, hit up the Wave at the Vermillion Cliffs, see Antelope at midday during a less busy time, see the Rainbow Bridge & catch some of these places again with the GoPro I now have. Traveling is meant to be done over longer periods of time, not in a week unless you’re only seeing 1 or 2 things. After my South America trip I can truly say it takes about 6 weeks to finally feel rejuvenated completely. Part of the perks of working at a school I guess. For now on when I travel, I will take the time I need and enjoy the time I have to the fullest. A vacation isn’t meant to be on a schedule like a job. Take things as they come, let go, and give yourself the time you need to get everything out of it.


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