Utah 2023 – Calf Creek Falls and the Valley of Fire

In our final days, we found a couple of shorter but no less spectacular hikes to wind up our trekking holiday. The first was near the town of Escalante (a target for future holidays, to be sure!), and the second was across the border to Nevada on our drive to the airport in Las Vegas. As much as we had seen on this trip, we agreed that we had just tapped the surface of what Utah offers anyone who loves being immersed in raw nature.

We look forward to visiting again!

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Utah 2023 – Bryce Canyon National Park

To reach our last resting stop in Utah, we drove across the state through Canyonlands and Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon, three of the spectacular national parks in the state. It was a long day in the car over scenic Utah State Route 12 (which gives car drivers the same nervous ridgetop thrills as The Portal Trail gives mountain mountain bikers in Moab!). The steady climb to higher elevations brought overcast skies, lower temperatures, and fallen snow as we hiked the Peekaboo Loop Trail from Sunrise Point to Bryce Point. Words cannot describe the beauty around us, so I will let the photos speak for themselves.

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Utah 2023 – Around Moab

In past visits to Moab, I always focused my attention on Arches National Park. Having a few more days on this trip to explore and wanting to avoid the large crowds, we found some nearby gems: a treacherous cliffside trail from The Portal offering fantastic views of the town over the Colorado River and a path further down the river that some local folk recommended to us with arches worthy of Arches!

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Utah 2023 – Arches National Park

Our trekking holiday in Utah combined new areas for me to explore and a return to some old favorites. Imagining any place more special than Arches National Park is challenging in the latter category. While Monument Valley elicited many memories from my youth, Arches marks a milestone in my adult life due to a friend’s book recommendation in 1992, before my first visit: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Abbey’s autobiographical description of two seasons as a park ranger in Arches sits prominently amongst the books that have changed my life. Anyone visiting the American Southwest or interested in humanity’s role in preserving the natural environment would be well served by reading this.

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Utah 2023 – Goosenecks State Park, Moki Dugway, and Natural Bridges National Monument

I think Utah should be called “The 3D State.” Nearly everywhere we went, there was our level – the one on which we were traveling – then levels above us (mountains, mesas, and buttes) and levels below us (arroyos, gulches, and canyons). In both our hikes and scenic drives, we rarely stayed at one elevation. We constantly went up then back down or went down then back up. Either way, we had good stretches for our legs when hiking and good stretches of our necks when enjoying the views. For two days out of Monument Valley, we got to experience this phenomenon firsthand as we visited some beautiful places a bit off the beaten path.

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Utah 2023 – Four Corners, Valley of the Gods, and Monument Valley across 58 years

Escaping the cold windstorm by moving East, we made a long, shallow loop around Navajo Mountain to Four Corners, then back through the serene Valley of the Gods for a quick afternoon hike before approaching one of my favorite places on Earth: Monument Valley. I have been to this special place many times in my life, and always recall vivid memories of my first visit as an 8 year old. With the help of my brother, Eric (who was not even born at the time of that first visit), we found photographic slides that our Dad, the late Jack S Wilmoth, had taken in 1965, 58 years earlier. While I didn’t have access to his images during this trip, it has been fun to intersperse his shots with my own! You can see how we change much more dramatically than the formations do.

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Utah 2023 – Upper Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Well, actually not Utah, but just over the river-border into Arizona for a day to visit the iconic Upper Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. For many years I have loved the imagery that photographers like John Gavrilis have captured of this magical place so it was a special treat to join a guided tour (the only way we’re allowed to visit this Navajo tribal land) and try my own hand at such artistry. The conditions outside were rough, with high winds sandblasting our faces as we entered and exited the famous slot canyon, but when we saw how those conditions delivered unique drifting “sandfalls” in the beams of sunlight, it was easy to ignore the discomfort. We could easily blame the swirling dust for the tears in our eyes, but the emotions that the beautiful formations evoked also played their part!

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Utah 2023 – Zion National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Still relishing our climb of Angels Landing, the next couple of days were filled with several relatively short hikes in Zion (The Watchman Trail, The Narrows Riverside Trail and the Zion Canyon Overlook Trail) before we made the long drive around Navajo Mountain, back and forth over the Utah-Arizona border, to our next base of operations in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

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Utah 2023 – Zion National Park: Angels Landing

Shortly after I returned from Thailand, Joanie and I left home for our first trekking holiday of the year: to the American Southwest and, in particular, to Southern Utah for a couple of weeks of pre-planned trails and impromptu adventures. The winter was longer than usual this year, so inclement weather altered some of our plans. But with every bit of “bad luck” we also found unexpected rewards.

As we had done in the English Lake District last year, we moved in a large loop through five “bases,” where we could unpack and settle for a few days in each while enjoying nearby day hikes. Most were in or near National Parks, National Monuments and State Parks, and reminded me of a quote often attributed to one of my favorite authors about the American West:

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

Wallace Stegner, 1983

For some fun literary research about “who said this first?” check out this article.

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