A&A Visit The Mighty ‘Utah 5’ National Parks
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
End of Week #19
Elk Creek Campground, Curecanti Recreational area, near Gunnison CO > 4J+1+1 RV Park, Ouray CO > Ancient Cedars Mesa Verde RV Park, Mancos CO
Miles traveled since last week’s post = 210
Total miles traveled to date = 3387 with trailer
It’s wild to think that a lot of my friends and family members may get some snowfall this week, as we roll things into the second week of October. We are still maintaining highs in the 60s and hope to at least stay at a high of 50 or so before departing from Colorado and heading south to Texas. We are fully accepting that there could be a chance of a white flake or two before leaving Colorado, but I think since we know we will be moving south it makes it all a lot more tolerable 🙂
I really don’t want to leave Colorado though, and fell head over heels in love with a few different mountain towns already – especially Ouray. [I’m already plotting my return and while we were there we spent some time checking out the real estate and land that was available, just to see.] We are taking our time in Colorado right now, currently in the SW corner of the state near the city of Cortez. Soon we will continue to head west and then north before meeting up with more friends near Denver.
I had said at one point that I would only provide RV related updates on Mondays, leaving travel reviews for off days, but I have decided to make the Mighty Utah 5 an exception. With such a dense population of natural wonders, Utah deserved the spotlight this Monday, and I thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing on our time exploring the state last month.
A&A Visit The Mighty ‘Utah 5’ National Parks, 2 State Parks and 2 National Monuments
Utah really had it all, from turquoise blue waters at northern Bear Lake, to the huge cities near Salt Lake, to the desert and red rock cliffs in the south near Zion. We spent about 2 and 1/2 weeks in Utah in September, and it didn’t feel like nearly enough time there. It was enough time for us to conquer the infamous ‘Utah 5’ National Parks, a few added State Parks and National Monuments (in just over a weeks time) and spend some much needed catch up time with friends, but I could have easily spent another several weeks exploring so much more of the desert life.
All of the Utah Parks and Monuments are located on the elevated Colorado Plateau, helping create the phrase “life elevated” throughout the state. With over 60% of Utah being public lands, there is no shortage of areas to explore or places to stay and boondock for that matter. With such a high elevation, a lot of the Parks and Monuments have also been classified as International Dark Sky Parks. (Read more about that here.)
I am still working to put together a travel itinerary to show you how we accomplished all that we did with Utah’s State Parks, National Parks, and National Monuments, and to also include each specific hike and activity we did. But in the meantime here is an overview of what to expect when visiting all of the glory that is the state of Utah and it’s park systems.
While we were in southwest Utah we stayed in East Zion, perfect proximity to a handful of Parks to go to. And while we were in southeast Utah we stayed in Moab, perfectly in between several Parks there.
How do I even begin to describe this place? I’ve been wanting to come here for ages – ever since we went to Sedona a few years ago, and again last year. And ever since I’ve been seeing so many incredible photos of this place on social media! This park even made me question my undying love for Sedona as my top favorite US destination, and I’m still confused on what comes out on top.
Driving in from the East entrance, you make your way through the longest darkest mountain tunnel I’ve ever been in, and then continue down several switchback roads through the largest red rock canyon you can imagine. I honestly teared up about 5 times that first time we drove in, as all of the magic and beauty hit me with a huge wave of emotion. All of the cliffs and canyons here were carved by the Virgin River, wind and rain and you can’t help but feel unworthy to be in a such an otherworldly sacred place. The mountains seem to come out of nowhere, and dramatically shape the landscape of the park. Up until the 20th century Zion was too remote of a destination for any tourism and only through determination did Native Americans, Mormons and artists access the rugged landscape. In fact, a travelling painter was the one to campter the country’s attention when he brought his painting of Zion to the St. Louis World Fair. After that it only took a few years for the President to declare the region a National Monument and then again later a National Park.
Zion is our first experience in going to a National Park and having to first park and then take a shuttle to access the various hiking trails and lookout points. The shuttle is free of charge and they run every several minutes, but it was something to get used to in not being in control of our exploring. The park initiated this system a few years ago to help reduce any damage to the area from tourists, as over the years the amount of tourism here has went from 2 million people a year to over 6 million! (Social media is to blame.)
We spent two very full days in Zion and would have easily spent more if we had more time and if some of the trails I wanted to explore weren’t closed from rock falls! I am proud to say we conquered both the famous Angels Landing hiking trail, AND the Narrows. Each experience took our hiking careers to a new level and were more enjoyable than I can even describe. A bucket list place for sure!
I still sort of regret that I only planned about a half of a day to explore Bryce Canyon, as it ended up surprising me the most with it’s true beauty. Not that I expected anything different, but I didn’t expect that we would be able to hike down into the canyon and experience all it’s glory from anywhere other than above. Bryce Canyon is home to the hoodoos, huge spire rocks jutting out of the ground, dazzling in the sun with their orange and red hues. We were able to do a hike that went right down into the canyon and allowed us to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. The canyon walls, and the hoodoos, were all nestled amongst more tall pine trees, and it was such a magical experience. I was truly in awe our entire hike!
Bryce is another one of Utah’s parks that utilizes the shuttle system, allowing you to park at the entrance and then take a free shuttle around to each lookout spot and hiking trailhead. You could technically drive your car to each lookout point, but the parking lots were so packed full that it would be extremely tough to get a spot. The park itself isn’t super massive but there are plenty of miles of trails to explore. It’s hard to picture that you will be showing up to a huge colorful canyon, as you are first traveling through a deep pine forest before suddenly breaking out of it into a foreign desert alien land. We rode the shuttle through the whole park and stopped at each lookout point!
This is a place I really wish we would have gotten to spend more time exploring, as we only stayed near the area for one night and then drove through part of the park the next day on our way to Moab. This park is named for it’s very unique geological phenomenon, called the Waterpocket Fold. Geologists refer to it as a “wrinkle in the Earth’s crust” and it is also pocketed with water catching basins, as dramatic spines of tilted rock traverse the length of the park from north to south. The “wrinkle” stretches over 100 miles! This geological formation has happened over time, from shifting tectonic plates, water, and erosion that has shaped and created the rolling “waves” of the reef. This process has also created sculpted domes, cliffs, canyons, arches, and monoliths.
We really wanted to reserve a night or two in the famed Fruita Campground in the park, however it was fully booked for the entire month of September! Clearly people knew what they were in doing in reserving this desert oasis FAR ahead of time. Definitely next time!