Utah part 2

Beside this website we also have an Instagram page where we share pictures and stories of our travels. I have very mixed feelings about these social media. I don’t like at all how they force you to spend time on their platform in return for exposure of your pictures to the people who want to follow your travels. However, the platform has also been a great source of inspiration for us. And this has definitely been the case in Utah where there is so much to see that there are still amazing places to be found that are not yet in guide books or travel brochures. But they do pop up on Instagram pages of other travellers that are doing a similar trip. And if you ask politely most of them are very willing to let you in on the secret.

The first site is sometimes referred to as the ‘Mordor of Utah’. It certainly looks very special and a bit threatening with sharp black rock formations placed on a hill in the middle of what looks like a big arena shaped canyon. To get there you need to drive off the road at a specific coordinate and then look for an almost invisible dirt track that you need to drive until it ends. From there you need to start walking with GPS to another coordinate. Without the help of our virtual Dutch friends we would never have found this place and that would have been a real pity.

But this was just the beginning because not so far from this spot, we drove to what will probably remain THE best camp spot of this entire trip. Again we needed coordinates to find the way to this spot. There are no real roads there, so google and the other GPS would have just sent us  straight into the deep and loose sand where we would probably still be stuck. But with a little help from our friends we found a pretty bad dirt track and it took us right to the edge of a canyon. The moon like landscape that we saw there was really beyond words so I will not even try to describe it here and just let you enjoy the pictures. We also threw the drone in the air and it surely did over time.  The sunset was amazing and the sunrise the next morning was even better.

Via Capitol Reef National Park (the most underrated of the Utah Big 5 National Parks), we drove to Grand Escalante National Monument. ‘Escalante’ is another awesome place that is not on the classic Utah itineraries. The main reason for that is that the main attractions require a drive of at least 60 km on gravel roads. We heard a lot about the infamous washboards of this road and it was indeed pretty bad. For nearly 3 hours, the van was bumping, shaking & rattling.  But finally we got to the starting point of the hike to ‘Peekaboo’ and ‘Scary’ slot canyons. But these really narrow canyons are so worth the drive and hike.

Crawling, climbing & squeezing ourselves through and up the canyon was so much fun. “Better than Disneyland” according to our kids. We liked it so much that we drive some more washboards to do another one of these canyons. Zebra canyon was short and even more narrow/challenging than the other two canyons. This time, we had to climb up the walls a couple of times, wedge ourselves between the walls and then swing the kids under us to get ahead. Loads of fun! But this ‘striped canyons was also even more beautiful than the others. After all this fun the ‘horror washboard drive back to the normal road almost passed like a breeze.

It was now end of October and we had been running in shorts and t shirts ever since arriving in Utah but this was about to change. We had seen pictures of people who had been at our next destination exactly a year ago and they were in snow. And sure enough a cold front came moving our way, we started climbing to 2600 m and it got cold! Overnight, temperatures dropped by 15 degrees. While we were in the gorgeous Kodachrome State that was still bearable with temperatures around freezing at night. But when we got to Bryce Canyon National Park, the temperature at night was -12 degrees and so for the first time we had heat the van all night in order to avoid that our pipes would freeze.

The next morning, we really had to wait until the sun came out to be able to go outside. But once that happened we could enjoy this beautiful park. And it wasn’t even that cold as long as you kept moving. So we put on our hiking boots and hiked through this incredible landscape of insane rock formations (known as hoodoos). From the 5 Utah National Parks, this is probably our favorite!

We also met up for the first time with a Swiss family travelling in one of these big expedition trucks (of which we had seen on the road before). We were really amazed about how comfortable their ‘living unit’ is. It truly feels like a small apartment. After 6 months in our small van, we must say that we were a bit jealous. But the comfort and size also comes with some disadvantages such as fuel consumption, height/weight restrictions. And of course this comes with a completely different price tag. But still it is inspiring to see this completely different style of overlanding.

Our next stop was in Zion National Park. This is probably the most visited of the Utah parks. They have banned vehicles from most of the park as most of the year, there were more traffic jams in this park than in an average US city. So now most of the park can only be visited by shuttle bus…resulting in long queues to get on the bus. We timed our visit to avoid the weekend and got up before dawn to catch a parking spot and shuttle bus. We had participated in a ‘permit lottery’ to do one of the most famous hikes. That is right, the hiking trails also got so crowded since Covid, that only a limited number of people are allowed to do certain hikes. We got lucky in the lottery and got our permits for the Angels Landing hike. However, we were not at all sure that we would be able to pull off this hike. It is quite a strenuous hike but nothing that we had not done earlier. The issue however, is the last km to the Angels Landing viewpoint . This part goes steeply up and down on a very narrow ridge (not more than 1.5 m at some points) with no barriers and sheer drop off of up to 700m. We have to admit that neither of us was able to enjoy the views on this part. We were so concentrated on where to put our feet next, while simultaneously instructing the kids (with whom we were holding hands almost non stop) on their next move. But we all made it safely and were able to enjoy the amazing views from the viewpoint (while mentally preparing ourselves to do this whole expedition again to get down). On no hike have our kids been congratulated and celebrated more by fellow hikers than here…And on no hike have we ever been more terrified!

It was now almost time to leave Utah. We attempted twice to get another ‘hiking permit’ for the famous ‘The Wave’ hike but this time we did not get lucky. Instead we did another ‘slot canyon hike’ to Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. One last time we were bumping over the washboards of an Utah gravel road to get to a stunning canyon. We had read a lot about the dangers of flash floods in these very narrow slot canyons.

A thunder storm can turn these canyons in raging rivers and with walls that are sometimes 100 m high, there is nowhere to escape. We always carefully checked weather forecast before going on these walks. On this walk we got a very vivid reminder of this danger. At some point there was supposed to be a ladder to get passed a tricky section but it was not there. We founded back some remains of it several kms downstream, wedged between the walls maybe 50m above tour heads.


We also met again with a very nice German couple who gave us a great tip on where to spend our last night in Utah. For a month we had seen the most amazing sunsets but Utah had kept the best for last because the sunset at ‘Lone Rock National Monument’ trumped everything. The colours were just completely absurd & psychedelic. And every time, we thought the show was over, the colours changed again. An amazing goodbye from the state that is in a neck and neck race with Alaska for our favourite US state.

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4 thoughts on “Utah part 2

  1. Love these pics! Great one of you all wedged in the slot canyon. We might have the plethora of amazing national parks, but you all are seeing more if it than 99.9% of Americans. Including me!

    • Thanks Caroline! We were blown off our socks by all these beautiful parks in the US. For us, it did give another perspective on why not many Americans travel abroad. With all this beauty at home why would you go elsewhere.Time for a US roadtrip for you then! 😅

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