While we were in Arizona, our trip home to CT was postponed a few weeks, which meant we needed to figure out where else we wanted to go. We could have driven to New Mexico to explore there a few weeks, but the flights out of Albuquerque were really expensive. Our other two options were drive to Utah to visit more National Parks then head to Salt Lake or Las Vegas to fly home. Since we had already had our fair share in Vegas, we chose Salt Lake, and spent a week in Utah.
The drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Washington, UT was long, but very scenic! Like I mentioned in Arizona on Foot, we drove through Page, AZ to see Horseshoe Bend, and continued into Utah. The interesting thing was that once we got into Utah, we had to continue back into AZ to stay on the same highway, and back into Utah. Unfortunately we did not take a ton of pics on the drive, because half of it was after sunset.
First few shots in Utah before sunset.
Our main purpose for Southern Utah was the National Parks and hiking, so we did not care where we stayed, as long as it was fairly close. We found an immaculate apartment in Washington, just outside of St George. Zion was a 45 minute drive and Bryce was about another hour and 15 from Zion. That might seem like a lot of driving, but the views were so great that it helped make the time go by faster!
Driving from Zion to Bryce!
I had seen tons of photos of Zion, videos of crazy hikes, and read several blogs listing it as one of the top parks to visit, so when we had the opportunity, we made it happen! After looking at the weather forecast, we scrambled to the clearance section at Walmart to get some hats and gloves. We were nervous because the weather report said it was going to be 33 degrees, but it ended up being 46ish and really comfy for hiking. To get into Zion, it is $30 for the car OR if you have the National Park Pass, you get in for free. WIN! The park’s main roads are closed to regular traffic, but they have a free shuttle available at the visitor center. The shuttle is great because as you drive along, they give you info on the park and the trails.
Angels Landing is one of the most visited trails in the park, because it has such an extreme thrill factor. I had seen a video posted from a high school classmate that made me say “oh HELL no!” Going along with the theme of doing things that scare me and overcoming my fears…we said, “Let’s DO it!” secretly hoping we wouldn’t regret it! Angels landing starts out pretty tame, but then you start into the fairly steep switchbacks. What I didn’t like about this part was that the trails were paved to avoid erosion due to it being heavily trafficked.
Setting out onto Angel’s Landing! Note the switchback trail in the bottom right photos!
Just went you start to get really tired of the switchbacks, you get to a beautiful flat part that takes you through the canyon. Just before you can get too comfy, you make your way to a set of steep switchbacks called Walters Wiggles. If you are lucky, you will get to see some falcons or condors!
Once you make your way to the “top” of this, you start the real climb to Angels Landing. This is a narrow ridge up the mountain that is so dangerously steep, you need to hold onto a chain, shared by hundreds of other people, to safely make your way up AND down the mountain. Some areas are so razor thin to walk on that you have to hug the wall while holding on the chain, and pray that no one will be trying to come the other way at the same time! What helped me make this possible was to have my husband wear my backpack to help keep my center of gravity, not look down to the left or right, not look straight up ahead too far, and just keep moving. Once we got to the top, there were tons of people enjoying their snacks, while fearless chipmunks came very close to try and catch a nibble! The trek back down was not as scary because you were not tired and scared, but just maybe a little timid.
After an exhausting 3+ hours to do Angels Landing (but only 2.4 miles), we wanted to see a little more but not have to exert much energy, so we stopped at Weeping rock for some photos. This was just a short walk from the shuttle stop where you can get right under the falls. Since we were there in late February, the falls were creating this really cool ice formation down below.
On day 2, we wanted some easier hikes with nice views, so we decided on the Riverside Walk and Emerald Pools. The Riverside walk was the last stop on the shuttle, also the same trail that takes you to The Narrows. The Narrows were closed because of the level of the river, but on a warm day, you can walk through the river to this part of the park. Cold and wet wasn’t my idea of fun on this day! Riverside walk was great because it was mostly paved, flat, with a gorgeous view of the rocks up above. On the walk back, we decided to walk as much of it right next to the river as possible, while climbing on rocks for photos, stepping on “quick sand” (check out the video of me freaking out) and taking some more gorgeous shots!
Next stop was the Emerald Pool trails, which is a great easy to moderate hike. We liked this one because instead of paved trails, it was filled with natural and manmade steps of wood and rocks that made for a more comfortable hike. Lower Emerald Pool trail was closed due to some fallen rocks, so we took the Kayenta trail to the middle and upper pools. My guess is this hike is even more beautiful in the spring when more plants are in bloom, but the ice filled pool and waterfall at the upper pool was really cool too!
Middle and Upper Emerald Pool Trails
After a long day at Zion, we really wanted to go for a beer, but what we learned early on was that Utah has some pretty wacky liquor laws! For starters, you cannot buy beer over 3.4% at a grocery store or a bar. You must go to a state liquor store for that. The state liquor stores are very inconspicuous, with signs that blend right into the building, OR they are in the back basement of some grocery store. Once you get inside, finding the good beer is not easy. They have warm SINGLE cans or bottles all around the store. They also don’t use advertising in the store, so you are on your own for finding what you think you want. Ultimately we felt like criminals trying to enjoy a few strong beers or buy some bourbon for hot toddies. Seeing as though 60% of Utah is Mormon, this all makes sense.
Bryce Canyon was COLD and snow covered the day we wanted to go, but we still wanted to make a visit, so we took the scenic drive from Zion to get there. From Zion, you drive through tunnels, see some really cool rock formations, and all the natural beauty around you. Bryce was a ghost town for the most part because there with no guards at the entrance and hardly any other cars there. We drove all the way to Rainbow point to take some pictures, and then headed back down and stopped at each view point, ran out of the car, snapped a photo or two, and ran back into the heat of our car. Remember….we did not have winter gear, and 26 degrees was chillllllllllyyyyy! Would love to go back in warmer weather!
Salt Lake City
We laid low for the most part in Salt Lake, BUT it was a pretty adventurous drive there. From St George/Washington, it was going to be 4 hour 15 min drive, 300 mile up Interstate 15. Talk about boring! Good thing I had an audio book to listen to. About an hour in, it started to snow. CRAP. I never looked at the weather forecast like I usually do. I’m talking white out snow storm. Ok, I’m from New England, so no big deal right? WRONG. I could hear my grandfather telling me, “You should always have a pair of boots, shovel, food, and a warm coat in your car just in case!” Yea, well we didn’t even have an ice scraper since we got the car in Phoenix, we were low on windshield wiper fluid, driving a Chevy Malibu AND we had no winter gear. Luckily the roads were well treated so it didn’t stick much, there was hardly anyone on the road, and I just drove white knuckled until the weather improved a bit. The scariest thing was that it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, which meant nowhere to pull over if we had to! Once we got to Salt Lake, I was relieved!
Our place in Salt Lake and the Salk Lake!
In Salt Lake, we took a drive to see the lake, which was very uneventful, but it was a pretty drive with all the snow covered mountains around us. Salt Lake is a very clean, hilly city, with lots of history, Universities and of course, Temple Square. We did visit Temple Square one day, but did not plan it out well. I later learned that there were tons of free tours available that we could have taken, and an opportunity to learn about our family’s ancestry. We took a self-guided tour through the immaculate grounds, saw the outside of the beautiful temple (non-Mormons are not allowed inside), and sat and listened to an organist practice for a bit at the Tabernacle.
People keep asking what places did I like and which places did I not like. The answer is never easy because some places might be beautiful but not a great place to live. Utah was exactly that for us. Hiking and visiting National Parks in Utah is absolutely amazing, but it was a bit too remote and we just would not fit into society there.