Utah National Parks Road Trip 2016

Friends Pat and Jesse came along on this 2500-mile + road trip, touring 6 National Parks, and doing some visiting and fun things along the way.

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Before you get to Utah, you have to cross the Nevada desert-- not much there but the town of Wendover, right on the Utah state line. Wendover Historic Airfield is where the Enola Gay B-29 was outfitted and the crew trained -- before flying to Tinian Island, and then on to Hiroshima. The little museum has all sorts of artifacts, and is right beside the iconic 1940's control tower featured in the old movie "Con Air."

First was Arches National Park, with over 2000 natural sandstone arches. We saw all sorts of arches and stone formations, including the park's signature, Delicate Arch. (It doesn't look very big, but it's back a ways - it stands almost 100 feet tall.) Unfortunately, the hike up to see it was over uneven ground, and Sandy twisted and sprained her right ankle and foot. We were staying in nearby Moab, where there was a great hospital, whose emergency room confirmed no bones had been broken - just lots of pain and tenderness. (Ironic: an injured arch at Arches National Park!)

Not far from Arches is Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. Both overlook the Colorado River, some 2000 feet below. Where Arches was all about stone formations, Canyonlands is about an immense canvas of ridges, canyons, and amazing examples of the power of erosion over many years. Indian writing on some of the stone walls testifies this land has been occupied off and on for thousands of years. That night we enjoyed a nice river-side motel in Green River, Utah.

Capitol Reef National Park isn't really a reef, but a twist in the earth's crust almost 90 miles long. It's main feature is the Waterpocket Fold, created around 65 million years ago, where different parts of the earth folded over each other in the shape of the letter S. Lots of dramatic and interesting rock formations, including the one that looks sort of like the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Our route next took us along Utah Highway 12, which many guidebooks label as "the most beautiful road in the United States." It features one curve after another, each with even more amazing views.

Bryce Canyon National Park was next, but alas, rain and fog made seeing anything impossible. We watched the visitor center movie, and did some laundry, vowing to try again the next morning. Luck was with us, as the fog lifted enough for us to take in the most of the sights. Bryce Canyon is another mis-named National Park, consisting not of a canyon at all, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters. The Park contains some of the earth's most colorful rocks, sculpted into vertical pillars called hoodoos.

Sure you've been to the Grand Canyon -- practically everybody has. But 90% of visitors go to the South Rim , which is easy to get to and has lots of tourist facilities. But the North Rim is convenient to reach from Utah, and has the same stunning vistas, trails, mule rides, etc. as the South Rim -- and few crowds!

We were stunned when we woke up to find the forecasted rain storm had turned into snow! Luckily, the temperature rose to an almost balmy 50 degrees, and the snow rapidly melted, allowing us to enjoy the Grand Canyon views. At one point on the rim, you can see the Colorado River about a thousand feet below.

While Bryce Canyon has lots of car-accessible scenic spots where you look down into the canyon, Zion, where you are at the bottom of the canyon looking up, is more geared to sights best seen on foot. Its big assortment of trails offers several that are OK for even Sandy to try, so we got a good impression.

What the heck -- you have to drive through Las Vegas to get from southern Utah back to California, so why not a little R&R to reward the naturalists at the end of their trip? The Cirque de Solei Beatles Love show at the Mirage was absolutely stunning -- amazing staging, illusions, acrobatics, etc.

A quick stop in Bakersfield for dinner with some cruise friends wound the trip up, and we were soon home.

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