Southern Utah is one of those bizzare and intensely beautiful places that moviemakers can’t help but use as the backdrop for their movies. Beautiful places like this are difficult to reach, but luckily America is the land of great road trips.
If you have an extra week on your schedule, and want to see some of the iconic places that make a western movie a western movie, rent a car and check out this itinerary:
Step #1: Begin in Salt Lake City Utah. I haven’t been to a city anywhere in America that comes close to being as friendly as Salt Lake. The food is great, there are beautiful mountain backdrops in every direction, and did I mention the people are friendly? Remember to BYOB though, as the state has a limit on the alcohol content places can put in their drinks.
Step #2: Go see the mountains! Park City, Alta, and Snowbird are just a few of the many beautiful ski resorts that are worth a visit at any time of year. They have some of the best skiing in the world during winter, and great mountain biking in the summer. Check out the local ski shops for mountain bike and ski rentals.
(If you look close in the small hole next to the arch, you will see me relaxing after a pretty sketchy rock climb).
Step #3: Take Highway 15 to highway 6, and keep going until you reach Moab. Here you have reached the Shangri-La of desert rock formations. There is the town of Moab, but the rest of the region is very rural, so plan on camping or cheap hotels (I would recommend camping). In Moab there are several outfitters in town that provide dirt bikes and other offroading vehicles. You can pretty much do anything here, from tandem base jumping (something I have always wanted to do), to mountain biking or rock climbing. There are also some fantastic slot canyons to walk through if you want something at a slower pace.
(check out the local news in Canyonlands at the Newspaper stop on the access road. Archaeologists don’t know how old these pictures are, what they mean, or who made them.)
Step #4: Go To Canyonlands, making sure that the emphasis of your trip is in the Needles District. The picture above is from the Lost Canyon hike in the Needles District. From here you can look around you and see the history of the earth. The erosion of rock leaves behind black streaks which show where streams and river run when the area has water, and the mountains in the background are a reminder of where the earth used to be. The rock climbing in this region goes along routes they call ladders, which are step like formations from where the canyon has been slowly eroding. This is my favorite part of Utah.
Step #5: Keep heading south from here, and make sure you have brought some good music to listen to. It is a long trip to Page Arizona to see Lake Powell, but no desert trip is complete without stopping by an Oasis. Be prepared to rent a boat and go cliff jumping! Lake Powell is actually a massive reservoir, which filled a section of the grand canyon, so the water is deep. It is a great place to get lost, so get ready to explore.
Be sure to stop by Monument National Park on the way to see a Navajo Reservation and some more towering mesas:
(if you have ever seen the road runner and coyote cartoons from acme, you may recognize this setting)
Be sure and also check out Upper or lower antelope canyon for an afternoon hike. This is one of my favorite pictures of lower antelope:
Step #6: Head down to Flagstaff, or strait to the north end of the Grand Canyon if you are camping, or have the money to stay at one of the hotels there. Both the north and south sections of the Grand Canyon offer sweeping vistas of unreal beauty. Donkey rides to the bottom of the canyon are popular, and a great opportunity to take family photos. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get on the grand canyon part of the Colorado river. Permits need to be applied for and the waiting list is literally a decade long.
Step #8: Go to the Sin City capitol of America: Las Vegas! Las Vegas is best seen when you are 21, because the city runs on its night life. If you end up there during the day, check out the hoover dam, or if you are sick of the car, walk the strip and watch the Belagio water fountain show. It is hard to go wrong in this city if you enjoy partying. It is also a great place to fly out of, with cheap flights almost anywhere.
These places are an outdoors paradise, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. But don’t stick to the itinerary too much! I could easily spend a whole month in any one of these places, and never get bored. If you are going for the first time though, I recommend seeing the whole thing so that you know what is out there. Happy travels!