Bryce Canyon National Park is smaller and more subtle than its Park neighbors. What grabs you is the varying shades of rust color and how fragile it all seems. Over in Zion Canyon, we experienced our first taste of Disneyland – National Park style. Most memorable was hiking 4 miles up a river through a narrow canyon. We then finished off our tour of Utah by gettin’ down with The Book of Mormon. We’re impressed!
People don’t always make it to both Zion and Bryce. Bryce is the little brother to Zion’s over-achieving elder sibling. Zion is best experienced by hiking to elevated peaks and into slot canyons. Bryce has some walks down into the amphitheater, but you can see most things from the park road and do it all in a day. Nevertheless, we wanted to hit Utah’s four most popular parks. Having already seen Canyonlands and Arches, Bryce Canyon did not disappoint.
With the iron content in the rock, the resulting orange colors make it an ideal place to catch a sunrise or sunset. Or so we read. Not ones to drag ourselves out of bed for the celebration of Earth’s rotation, we were told the sunrise was beautiful. The spires or “hoodoos” seem to glow. We believe it!
Zion Canyon National Park is about 2 hours away and the difference is startling. Arriving from the East, you can hike up to a canyon overlook and see the park laid out at your feet. There is a 1-mile tunnel built in the 1920’s carved into the side of the mountain on the left. There are switchbacks that give you views in all directions as you make your way out of the tunnel and further down to the canyon floor.
Let’s get this out of the way: Zion is ridiculous. Considered to be one of the most amazing National Parks, at times it feels like the whole country is here to see it. The park has a really great shuttle system setup to handle the massive crowds from March through November, so no one can drive on the main park road (unless you are staying at the swanky inn within, which we were not). Good work Zion!
This park was also our first taste of hour-long lineups to get first-come-first-serve campsites. We hit the camping jackpot that day and got one of the last sites in the only non-reservable campground in the park. Tip – get there early, like before 8:00am or plan to spend half your day with fingers crossed, hoping someone checks out by 11:00.
We wanted to see The Narrows. A famous hike where you not only follow a river upstream, you are literally hiking IN the river upstream through a narrow, slot canyon.
The hike is recommended for all ages and kids should be at least 4 feet tall. Amanda just made the cut. Gotta keep that backpack dry!
You can hike in as far you would like and turn back at any time. We probably hiked somewhere between 6-8 mi / 10-12 km round-trip. The way back going WITH the flow of the river was a snap.
We started mid-morning and were heading back down the river in the early afternoon. Crowds moving in all directions seemed to be getting thicker. Jamming this much humanity into a narrow riverbed is a comical sight to be seen. With a water temperature of about 65F/18C, everyone is enjoying the cool reprieve from the 95F/35C air temperature. Getting wet was the purpose of the hike!
Next up: Salt Lake City! Possibly one of the most weird and fascinating cities in the US; We can’t think of any other city with history like this one. After receiving relentless persecution from their fellow citizens in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois (where their leader Joseph Smith was eventually assassinated by a mob), Mormons were pushed West to seek a home where they could live and worship God in peace.
Apparently Brigham Young came down into this valley, saying “This is the place” and thus, Salt Lake City was born. Construction of the temple was almost immediately started, along with diverting water runoff from the mountains to irrigate the arid land. They designed a well laid out city from scratch.
If you grew up without already being indoctrinated into a specific religion and if you’re now looking to evaluate the thousands of religions in the world: you may want to consider The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! Sure, the beginnings sound questionable: Joseph Smith, a struggling treasure hunter in the 1830’s finds some golden tablets buried in upstate New York, refuses to show anybody, and translates them from “reformed Egyptian” into English… But the culture within the Mormon community in Salt Lake City seems to be as close to Utopian as we’ve seen in any US city. There is a safe, calm, loving, community feeling in the neighborhoods. Kids playing in the streets. Friendly, well-dressed people walking around, hardly any urban blight, and a Church on every block.
Our religious impressions aside, the city is located in a beautiful valley with mountain views and downhill skiing nearby. Fewer than 50% of Salt Lake’s residents are Mormon and it feels just like any metropolitan American city with about a million residents. Travis picked up a souvenir. And one thing he’s certain of – if you’re part of the club, you’re sure to make some great friends in your neighborhood!