MESSAGE: Southwest Utah

My trip through Utah was to visit portions of The Grand Staircase, the world’s most well preserved sequence of sedimentary rock formed by ancient lakes, inland seas, deserts and forests.

The rock layers span 100 miles and represent more than 525 million years of geological evolution. The Grand Canyon lies at the bottom of the Grand Staircase, with Zion National Park in the middle, and the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon at the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’re 7 ways to indulge in this vast rock wonderland:

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Zion’s Narrows. The Narrows is a gorge, with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just 20-30 feet wide. One of the most popular areas in Zion National Park, you can see The Narrows up close by walking in the Virgin River.

Since I did no pre-trail prep, I was surprised that I’d be walking in water. Correction—wading in water. On most of this trail, I was walking in water up to my knees, sometimes thigh-high. Some people even swam part of the hike. I didn’t.

It was my third hike that day and after a couple of hours, I turned back, knowing that I had to still slog along at least 2 hours to get out of the gorge. It was exquisite, but exhausting.

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Cactus Fajitas & Elk Jerky. For the carnivore, there’s plenty of buffalo, elk and venison around these parts, in addition to scores of road-side jerky stands. For me, I’m all about the cactus fajitas. Tasting like an extra sweet green pepper, the cactus was a nice compliment to the rest of the grilled veggies and black beans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASHOP (Gotta Have) – Binoculars. Several times I hit the local Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office for advice and free maps. There I happened upon a map showing the state’s “Wildhorse Herd Management Areas,” featuring the best viewing spots for wild mustangs in Southwest Utah. Bingo!

I was so excited by this, not only did I re-route my trip home so could pass by several of these areas, I also considered buying a pair of binoculars to up my chances of seeing the wild horses. In Utah, there are 23 wild horse herds (2,100 animals) and I wanted to see some!

In total, the BLM manages 201 herds in 10 states as part of the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, passed by Congress in 1971 to protect, manage and control wild horse populations on public lands. The horses are deemed ‘living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.’

In the end, I refrained from buying binoculars. Electing instead to just sit still and be quiet. Now, if you know me personally, I don’t exactly excel at sitting still and being quiet, but I figured this was the perfect opportunity to practice. (See below)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASEE (Must-see Sights) – Wild Mustangs. (See above) I thought in my city-slicker head that I would follow the map, drive up to a viewing area, and climb up on a platform for an expansive view. I would set up my beach chair, wrap a blanket around me while drinking my morning coffee and the wild horses would gallop by for my viewing pleasure.

This didn’t happen. Of course, there was no viewing platform. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I was on the right, un-marked, un-paved road. I stopped by the local gas station and then the post office to see if I was in the right area and the locals said maybe. They also told me they had only seen the wild horses 2-3 times in their entire life, and it was always very early in the morning and wintertime.

Undaunted, I headed out anyway, bumped along the dirt roads for an hour, then headed back. I didn’t see any wild horse, but I did spy a pretty sunflower.

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Hiking. This is the reason you come to this part of the state – to see the magnificent canyons formed by hundreds of millions of years of rain and erosion. And if your knees will hold up, hiking is the best way to see the magnificence up close.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring my 4 days of hiking, I did 10 hikes, 3 in lower Zion, two in Zion’s Kolob Canyon, 3 in Bryce, and 2 in Cedar Breaks. I hiked between 3-6 hours a days and loved every minute of it. The views were astonishing, and even though I was hiking at prime time, there were still long stretches when I had the trail to myself.

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Big Horn Sheep. Since I arrived at all the National Parks before they opened, I never paid an entrance fee. But I wholeheartedly support the park’s mission of preserving the natural lands for us to enjoy, so I made a donation to both Cedar Breaks National Park and Zion National Park.

The donation was in the form of adopting two stuffed animals—a big horn sheep and a pica, bound for my 4-year old niece and 7-year old nephew.

You too can get involved by making a donation, adopting an animal, or shopping online at the National Park Service.

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Wildflower Festival. I was so lucky to be on my trip in July during the Wildflower Festival in Cedar Breaks National Park. The flowers are only in blooms about 4 weeks out of the year and I hit them at their prime.

I went on a 1-hour guided talk by a volunteer who walked us along the trail pointing out flowers and their special qualities to us. Really a lovely way to start the morning and see the intricate beauty of the park’s natural flora.


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This entry was posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2015 and is filed under North America.

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