My wife and I decided recently to just take an impromptu week-long little RoadTrip. After taking a look at where we could get to in a single day's drive, and eliminating all the places we've already been, we decided to visit some of the major national parks of southwestern Utah. We got an early start and made the drive up to Duck Creek Village where we'd set up our 'base camp' (in a fully equipped condo) for the next week. Once we got by Phoenix, the drive was one of the best the country has to offer as far as scenery goes: up the Mogollon Rim to the Colorado Plateau, skirting the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, over the Glen Canyon Dam and around Lake Powell, under the shadow of the Vermillion Cliffs, and through Dixie National Forest.
We spent our first day, as we usually do, visiting a nearby attraction and generally scouting out the area. So fist up was Cedar Breaks National Monument.
While not as spectacular as some of the other parks in the area, this was a good starting point with no crowds and a quite intimate, lovely short trail through an alpine meadow along the rim. As always the rangers at the headquarters/information center were quite helpful in pointing out the corners of the park that best suited our interests and abilities. The 15 minutes or so that we spend talking to these people before exploring any national park amply pays us back in getting the most from our time and efforts. We also joined a ranger led talk on the geology of the park which was also a good introduction to that of the other parks we'd soon be visiting.
On our way back home we stopped in Panguitch for dinner but not much open on a Sunday, especially in the way of restaurants, We did find one family style place but the entire town basically closes up shop for the day. So we took a little walking tour and then a short drive over to Bryce Canyon to scope it out before calling it a day.
The next day we headed over to Zion National Park.
One of the best parts about this park was the drive in from the east along the scenic road and through the mile long tunnel (with occasional windows!). Also, be forewarned that even though this route is a state highway (UT-9), in order to use it, even to drive from Kanab to St. George, you must pay the entry fee into the park. During the summer, the main canyon is accessible only by park shuttle busses, but that really is the only way to keep the canyon worth visiting. Otherwise it would simply be choked with traffic. We took one of the most popular hikes, the Riverside Walk at the head of the Canyon and had lunch at the Zion Canyon Lodge with a stunning view of the canyon walls. We were struck by the number of foreign visitors who seemed to easily account for nearly half the people in the park. We also completed the loop back to our 'home' by continuing around to the northwest side of the park, the Kolob Canyons section. Although not as spectacular as the main canyon, it is certainly worth taking the time to see and is considerably less crowded than the main area of the park
Next up was a break from the 'canyonlands' and a visit to the town of St. George. On the way down we stopped at the ghost town of Silver Reef, which turned out to be not much more that a few abandoned buildings in the middle of a suburb. And it wasn't 'open' in any event. We then took the tour of Brigham Young's winter home and the Tabernacle.
One thing the Mormon Church does very well is give guided tours of its historic sites. We had previously toured Nauvoo, IL and have always come away impressed with the depth of knowledge of the docents and the wonderful, almost one-on-one, intimacy of these tours. We then took another walking tour through the historic areas of the town and through a small park with a working carousel
Having driven so many miles over the last few days, we just took a break next and stayed in the Duck Creek Village area. Specifically, we took a couple of hikes in the Dixie National Forest. One of the recurring recommendations on this site is that concentrating on the 'must see' locations that everyone heads for is fairly short-sighted. There are so many more wonders to be seen in the many public lands, and most of them are terribly underutilized. We found out about a couple of great hikes in this 'local' forest by stopping at the very rustic and easy to overlook visitors cabin just west of our little village. Otherwise we would have never have known about Cascade Falls and Navajo Lake
In contrast to Zion, where the attractions, roads and services are in the canyon, at Bryce Canyon the main trails and lookouts are along the rim. The main attraction here are the views down onto the hoodoos and the multicolored sandstones reminiscent of the Painted Desert in northwestern Arizona.
And again, while the most popular overlooks are at the northern end of the park near the entrance, some far more intriguing locations are deep inside the park, but still readily accessible by car, including a stunning arch and views out over the vast plains below the rock formations.
On our final day, we simply relaxed, did some more checking into our local neighborhood, and got set up for an early departure for home the next morning. All in all, a great relaxing trip where in the best tradition of RoadTrips, most of our time was spent actually seeing and doing things, with just the right amount of driving to get us to those sights.