I find myself on a 10-day camping road trip around Nevada, Utah, and Arizona in the United States. It all kind of happened on a whim, and honestly, I wasn’t really prepared for how beautiful the area is. Most of the time you tend to think of these states as barren deserts with little to offer the average traveller. Or you immediately associate Nevada with Las Vegas (which is great too).
But so far it’s been Utah that’s really stolen the show. The Mormons really knew what they were doing when they set up their sect in this state!
I hired a local guide to take me to these places. You should too, if you want some big adventure.
Hiking Angel’s Landing was by far the most challenging and terrifying hike I’ve ever done, despite it being only about 5 miles round-trip. It’s also one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done.
We started in Zion Canyon and climbed dizzying heights through a series of switchbacks and some tight turns known as Walter’s Wiggles. The incline is a slow and steady one, which I didn’t find too challenging, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. The real fun starts when you get to Scout’s Lookout.
If you’re afraid of heights, this will be a serious test of your abilities. Once past Scout’s Lookout (you can turn around at this point), you’ll start climbing up a really tall, narrow, rocky outcrop to reach Angel’s Landing. It may take 45 minutes or longer, and the whole time you’re clinging to anything (including anchored chains) to pull yourself up, up, and up. And also to keep yourself from plunging off the side of the mountain. In some places the footpath is extremely narrow, and the drop on either side is terrifying.
The view from the top of Angel’s Landing, though? I think the photo does all the talking.
Bryce Canyon is another big attraction in Utah. It’s more colourful and quieter than the Grand Canyon, and drops into an enormous ravine. The sandstone pillars here have all been beaten down by wind erosion, and the red textures and subtle oranges make for one of the most unique landscapes you’ll ever see in the Western USA. And since people often overlook it for Arizona’s Grand Canyon, you’ll find it much less crowded and very accessible.
At the Bryce Canyon Lodge, you can opt for a horseback ride down into the canyon (you can also hike, if horses aren’t your thing). I’ve done a LOT of horseback riding in my life, and this was another real test of my heights issues. I mounted a mule named Jonny, a slow, placid kind of guy, and made my way deep down into the canyon with a big group of people.
But as canyons are, the path was winding and steep and terrifying at times. Jonny apparently loved to walk on the edge, because a few times I found myself cursing under my breath, convinced that Jonny was suicidal. Some of the others had more temperamental horses, though, so I’m glad that was the only stunt Jonny tried to pull. If you go, tell them you’re a novice rider.
The views from horseback were spectacular. Fallen pines, sandstone pillars, rugged mountains. Utah is hard to beat in the beauty department. If you’d like a similar experience, you can hire a canyoneering guide in Utah.
In Arches National Park you’ll find…well, all kinds of natural arches made from millions of years of erosion and geological mayhem. In fact, there are over 2,000 natural stone arches here, as well as endless soaring pinnacles, and even an impressive balanced rock or two. It’s considered the “red rock wonderland,” and its sunsets are perfect.
But Delicate Arch is one of the park’s main draws, and it’s not hard to see why. The hike is JUST challenging enough for adventure junkies, but easy enough for families with small children. You’ll round a ledge of rock and suddenly you’re face to face with the 65-foot Delicate Arch. Below it: a slick-rock canyon dropping to dizzying heights. Behind it: snow-capped La Sal Mountains. The red rock desert landscape set against those mountain peaks makes for one of the most breathtaking backdrops you’ll see in Utah.
My Hummer safari on a series of petrified sand dunes in Moab was absolutely the scariest part of my trip in Utah. For some reason I had expected a leisurely off-roading experience. But what I got instead was like a roller coaster ride in a military-grade Hummer. I don’t know – although my friends LOVED this part of our Utah trip (and even said it was their favourite), for some reason I found it the scariest.
The route first takes you along Devil’s Spine, an extremely narrow stretch of road that plummets into a steep drop. But that’s just the beginning. We drove backwards up a gigantic hill at a 40-degree slope, then free-fell off a jump that made my stomach drop. We climbed down a hill that had the Hummer angled at practically 90-degrees, and then we raced around rocky roads and dirt paths. In hindsight, it was pretty amazing. The driver was more than capable. But I can assure you: it’s NOT for the faint of heart!
A hogan is a traditional Navajo shelter made of logs and earth. It’s also a sacred place for Navajo ceremonies and celebrations. You can choose to immerse yourself in a little bit of Navajo culture in the middle of Monument Valley by camping out in a hogan overnight.
Monument Valley is full of mesas: table-like sandstone structures standing in barren desert landscapes (hence the name “Monument Valley”). It’s also in Navajo Nation, meaning it’s not technically owned by the United States. Everything here is governed by the Navajo nation. You can opt to take a jeep trip deep into the valley, where native guides will show you to some hidden hotspots like ancient petroglyphs and caves. Typically some song and dance is involved.
When the sun sets: try some traditional Navajo tacos involving steak, fry bread, and all the extras. For a little extra kick, make sure you add honey to your steak. Sounds weird, but you’ll love it! Before camping out in the hogan (which is surprisingly warm and comfortable, by the way), you’ll be treated to a small pow-wow session where a Navajo guide will dress up in warrior gear and perform some dances around the campfire. It gets pretty interactive too, so don’t be shy.