Adventures in Utah: a Playground of National Parks

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We knew we were bound for adventure in Utah when we were hit with an early-season snowstorm before crossing the state border. Through miles on unpaved roads, we just about teetered over a slushy cliff as we made our way through the Rocky Mountains. But just as swiftly as the inches of snow blew in, we left behind the white powder for the red rocks and dusty deserts of Utah.

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The fun began in Moab where kayaking the Colorado River can still be treacherous in mid-October. We finished the float even after flipping a kayak and losing a paddle and other personal belongings. RIP trucker hat and BluBlockers. The town attracts thrill seekers with its mountain biking, hiking, off-road trails and proximity to two national parks. For us, the off-roading looked like Kristin being jostled around in the bed of the truck while the boys drove the Tundra through a canyon. The Toyota Rock Warrior got its first bouldering experience after 6 years of suburban life. We hiked to the famous landscapes of Arches National Park and through the narrow walls of the isolated Canyonlands National Park.

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A late-night hunt for a camping site didn’t disappoint when we found a private spot in a canyon. The precarious off-road drive in the dark left a surprise view in the morning. Luckily no middle-of-the-night bathroom breaks took us over an unknown 50ft cliff only steps from our campsite. The following day’s drive through Capitol Reef National Park showed a contrast of red rocks and the fall foliage of vast orchards of fruit and nut trees. A little farther north, we left behind the desert for higher country in a campground in Fishlake National Forest where the shade of towering Aspens was a welcome change. It seemed that we had stumbled upon an oasis in the middle of the deserts. We hit another extreme temperature change as we left behind 80 degrees for an evening in the teens, which made for a brisk night in the back of the truck.

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There was still more driving to do before our next park. A small-town theater was showing IT, so we managed to find entertainment where it didn’t seem possible. That night we found refuge in a rest-stop parking lot before making our way to the next national park.  In case you were wondering, yes, the ongoing noise of highway traffic and the blaring lights from street lamps make restful sleep more than difficult. Or maybe the restlessness was due to visions of Pennywise dancing in our heads. The next day’s drive toward Bryce Canyon National Park brought expansive views of surrounding forests. In Bryce Canyon, it seemed like we entered another world where orange rocks stacked atop each other in odd shapes called hoodoos and the trees looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Although rare in national parks, Bryce also has a lodge that offers showers for a small fee. So regardless of the views along the Queen’s Garden Trail, the feeling of a long-needed shower takes the win.

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Zion National Park is the place where anyone whose ever been there tells you to go. And it’s not hard to see why. We hiked two of the must-do trails along with countless other park visitors. Still, in the middle of October when everyone else is supposed to be either in school or working (at least we hoped), the campgrounds filled up and the park’s shuttle buses ran continuously. Angel’s Landing might be the most terrifying of national park hikes with its thousand-foot drop-offs and narrow trails that only allow for one person at time. The last half-mile feels a lot longer than that as you grasp a chain and climb a steep and rocky cliff to the top while stumbling on other climbers coming down. The view is well worth it, which we tried explaining to many hikers who opted to back out once they reached that last section. The Narrows, on the other hand, might be one of the wettest of national park trails. While hiking through tall narrow canyon walls, you wade through the Virgin River. The start of the hike only gets you wet to your ankles, and then as you tread farther, the water hits you at your knees, and then your waist, and then if you’re like us in the middle of the fall, you turn around. We’re told that the rest of the hike involves a swimming finish through the river, and that it’s a welcome cooling sensation when the park’s temperatures surge into triple digits. But, when the high is around 70 and the water is around 60, it causes more of a numbing sensation. This is definitely a park worth coming back to just for the full Narrows hike.

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With Utah behind us, we headed for bright lights and sleepless nights in Vegas.

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