Days 32-46: The Big 5 in Southern Utah

Sorry for the delay on this post. I’ve been out of Utah for a whole week now, but what a whirlwind it was. In all honesty, I’ve started to lose track of how many days I’ve been on the road at this point. Days 32 and 46 for this date range are pretty reasonable guesses…they were busy!

There is a common theme that runs through the five National Parks in southern Utah. The Colorado Plateau is a land mass I had never heard of before, but it really should get a little more press since it’s the main provocateur of what makes this region so unique. Along with the Grand Canyon, all five of these parks have been carved from this single protrusion of land. Like an expert stone mason, water has cut the land into sculptures and landscapes that some did not believe existed when they first saw the paintings coming back from the west.

Zion National Park found its name thanks to the mormon homesteaders who originally settled the region. The most imposing features of the park have names taken from religious symbols; The Court of The Patriarchs, for example, are three massive white peaks named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It truly felt like a sacred temple, or sanctuary. But this sanctuary is not for the people, we are only guests. The flora and fauna that inhabit the canyon have adapted to its ins-and-outs and it is truly their territory. 

It was sometimes tough to take pictures in Zion, the scale is hard to capture. The cliff faces are so tall and so close that a wide angle lens is a near necessity, it was immersive.

A look down into Zion canyon from Angel’s Landing

Bryce Canyon was the next stop. Though technically not a canyon, walking the Queens Garden Trail and Navajo Loop trail certainly made Bryce feel cavernous. The bright colors of the Pink, Gray, White, and Vermillion Cliffs almost gave me sun blindness given that I had accidentally left my sunglasses inside my tent when I packed it up that morning. These brightly colored formations are what made up the seemingly endless number of hoodoos that gather on the floor of the park. It’s easy to see why the Paiute thought these hoodoos were ancient peoples that had been cursed into stone.

After Zion, Capitol Reef was my favorite. It had the deepest, most intense shade of brick red out of all the parks. The geologic features of the park are due to The Water Pocket fold. The park featured colorful layers that could stretch for as long as 100 miles. Capitol Reef was just a quick stop however, since the goal was to get to Moab where two parks sit conveniently near each other.

Ah, Moab…where the most comfortable time of day was at 4:30 in the m0rning, which was around the time the temperature dropped to the mid 70’s. Each day consisted of getting as much hiking as possible done before noon and then trying to find as many ways as possible to stay cool until the sun went down, even though the sunset brought little relief. Due to Arches National Park proximity to Moab I was able to explore a large portion of the park. Believe it or not, I was really hoping to see Landscape arch just come tumbling down so I could capture it. They no longer allow park visitors underneath this thin, 100 yard long arch.

Landscape Arch

Canyonlands National Park was unlike any other park I’ve been to. In The Needles district, one could easily lose themselves and end up down a canyon with no way out. The hike I did took me 3.7 miles down one canyon with a steep, narrow “gully” of sorts to crawl out from. Then, after scrambling over a few canyon walls, the trail took me down into another canyon to bring me back.

Canyonlands: Needles District
The way out of Big Spring Canyon

Have to give a big shout out to Borie for helping me escape the southern Utah heat, Vail was a very nice change of climate. Discs were thrown and good times were had by all! Thanks, Borie!

Tomorrow, I leave Colorado and head back into the southwest. I’m heading towards Big Bend National Park via Santa Fe. The summer is winding down incredibly fast and I’ll be back in the northeast in no time at all! On to Texas.


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