Why go to the Southwest USA?

Regular blog readers will recall my recent adventures with hubby* around Arizona and Utah.  I posted most days, using pretty average photos taken on my phone.

My hubby is an incredibly talented photographer who has finally curated down to his preferred 20 or so pictures from our trip.  His photos are so much better than mine that they deserve their own post.   For those of you who are on the fence about visiting, let’s see if these photos can persuade you.

Thanks to hubby for sharing!

bryce canyon

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arches national park


Delicate Arch at Arches National Park
Delicate Arch at Arches National Park

* note hubby does have a name.  However  he is extremely anti social media and anything remotely resembling attention.   So I have agreed to only ever refer to him on this blog as hubby to keep him firmly under the radar.

Arches National Park at rush hour

Stupidly I ignored my own advice and we headed up to Arches National Park when we arrived in Moab at lunchtime.  It was like a nightmarish cross between buying  a new kitchen in ikea  and trying to shop on Oxford street on Christmas Eve – a positively vile and overcrowded experience.  We gave up after an hour of bumper to bumper traffic, slow moving tourists and crowded carparks and made a plan to return in the morning at 6am

Instead, we drove up the Potash rd to hike to the spectacular Corona Arch!   Not too many hikers and a lovely walk.

Corona Arch
We diligently got up the next day at 5.50am, fuelled up on the free biscuits and gravy and cinnamon buns in the hotel and arrived in the park at the Windows viewpoint at 6.50am.  I was less than amused to see 40 cars and a tour bus with a breakfast buffet laid out already occupying much of the room in the carpark.  A quick stop to see Double Arch and we headed to the next stop….


Double Arch
We went next to Landscape Arch (the header photo) and managed to get in to see it before the 100 or so people behind us – quite lovely and as long as a football field

Skyline Arch
Finally, we climbed up to the delicate arch – obligatory tourist photo below.   There was a queue to get under the arch and take your photo…… hmmmmmmf! by the time we got back to the carpark it was overflowing with cars and there was a queue to wait for people leaving.    By this point I had had enough of other people, so we headed out of the park (around 10am) and were bemused by the one mile line of cars waiting to come through the visitors entrance

Delicate Arch
So, if your idea of a great national park experience is to drive (in a long queue) from viewpoint to viewpoint (waiting to get a carpark), getting out occasionally to walk a 500m loop to see something and then scuttling back to the car, then Arches is the perfect national park for you!   Honestly, while there are lovely things to see – I would not come again!

Additional notes
  • we stayed in Moab – as was with hubby, we stayed at the Holiday Inn.  However there is ample free BLM camping with nice sites up to the Potash Rd
  • Moab was the first good food we had had in a while – we loved the eggs benedict at the Jailhouse cafe, the two pigs and cow burgers at the Spoke, or even better the cheese burgers at Milts, the icecream at Crystals cakes and cones and the Moab ribbon pie at sweet cravings 

Behaving like a Bandit – Needles in Canyonlands

If I was a bandit hiding from the law (especially pre drone and heat sensing technology) I would head straight to the Needles in Canyonlands! The terrain is bizarre, endless numbers of sandy canyons interrupted by giant red rock formations needling straight up from the ground.

You could hide out (or get lost) in these canyons for days. This park gets my vote as the loveliest national park so far – not the stunning views of Bruce or the fear inducing climbs of Zion, but endless lovely trails looping around the canyons with very very few people on them!  The Rangers were the friendliest to date also!

We stayed for a few days, hubby under duress trying out camping for the second time since we got together 17 years ago (suffice to say the first outing ended in a hotel after one night).  I love camping, especially in the back country!  It’s quiet, you are outside, and there is nothing to worry about!  Hubby is less persuaded and wasn’t entirely ecstatic this morning, after his night in a huge luxurious borrowed tent, sleeping on a top of the range thermarest – he reckons it was like sleeping on a plank.  Oh well!  There are no hotels here and he signed up for one more night 🙂

The hikes are all splendid and interconnecting, so depending on how energetic you are you can do as much or as little as you like.

At a minimum I would recommend hiking out to the Chesler Park viewpoint and doing the Chesler park loop (18k round trip).  This includes a stunning part called ‘the joint trail’ which is a 500m section traversing a narrow crevasse.

You can camp in the park, in nearby BLM campgrounds, or the the privately run needles outpost. All the sites were more or less the same. We stayed at the outpost as they took advance bookings rather than first come first served. They also had an overpriced shop and paid showers. Water is free at the visitors centre so stock up there versus paying in the camping.

In the White Pocket

We are still in the under-rated Vermilion cliffs national park – a fantastically surreal landscape of reds and pinks and whites – which most people drive past without exploring on their way from the Grand Canyon to Zion or Bryce.  Today we headed out on the rough 4wd road to White Pocket, a stunning area for which no permit is required (yet!)

hiking across the rocks

Apparently no one knows how this pocket of landscape was formed – swirls of red and white, bizarre ‘brain like’ rock surfaces, odd shaped cliffs, yellow ‘oyster’ formations and the odd ‘pocket’ of water. 
hubby taking a lunchtime nap at the oyster

We spent a good four hours wandering around and could have happily spent longer – the light in the evening and at sunrise would have been spectacular 

the brains
We hired a photography guide with a 4wd to take us there as we didn’t have the right car and the maps aren’t helpful at identifying the best places to go.  It was expensive but worth it for us as we didn’t have a 4wd and the  guide was good.  We booked through grand circle tours who were pretty disorganised so I would advise going direct to Gary at yrag@kanab.net who is a fine art photographer and guide

If we were doing it again, I would take a 4wd and a tent and stay overnight to take advantage of the evening and morning light.  There is no water and no facilities, but ‘no trace’ camping is allowed

chilling in the ‘oyster’

Two amusing notes on Utah

– without fail, anyone you meet who isn’t a Mormon will let you know that within 30 minutes. Some people let us know they were not of the ‘predominant faith’ before they told us their names!   If someone hasn’t told you they aren’t Mormon and you are in Utah, assume they are

– liquor licensing laws here are quite amusing.  You will find booze easily in places that serve food, but lots of places, including taverns and grocery stores, are only allowed to sell relatively low alcohol ‘near-beer’.  

Visited September 2016

stripey rocks

The worlds longest slot canyon – in the Buckskin Gulch

The Buckskin Gulch is rated as one of the most lethal hikes in the US – it’s the longest uninterrupted slot canyon in the world.  It runs for 11 miles and in parts is so narrow your shoulders touch the sides.  Any hint of rain and you should absolutely not start hiking – the logs and debris you see wedged in between the rocks 50 metres above your head are more than sufficient evidence of the power of the flash floods that torrent through these walls.

My ‘top five global day hike’ list is getting reshuffled again, as this is a must do!   Some people overnight in the canyon (permits required and available in advance online), but it is a relatively easy 16 mile day hike if you leave your car at White House campground (the end of the hike) and organise a shuttle to the start at wire pass (most operators in Kanab will do this for you). A permit is required for day use but can be bought at the trail head.  

Hubby in the Gulch

Better would be to leave your car at wire pass, hike the canyon in one direction the first day, camp at White House and walk back to your car the next day (requires two day permits).  It may sound bonkers to walk the same trail twice but it genuinely looks different coming in the other direction and the light changes how the rock looks constantly throughout the day
me in the gulch…. bottom right

We were mesmerised by the light on the walls and the fact that the canyon looked different as we turned every corner. Like much of this region it is hard to do justice to the landscape with the camera, so you really need to come see for yourself. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in the world (for those of you who have been to Petra in Jordan, it is just like the canyon leading up to the treasury BUT instead of only running for 100m it goes for miles, has no tourists and is redder, so yup, I have never seen anything close to this in my life!)
The walk is pretty easy for most of the trail.  In the early section from wire psd there is a 2m drop that you need to navigate down by wedging your back against the wall.  In later sections, including the notorious ‘cesspools’, you may need to get up to chest deep in stinky mud (really stinky sewage smelling mud, hence the name).   None of this is difficult, but go prepared.   The only other people we saw in the gulch we met at one of the stinky water areas where everyone was clubbing together to gather big rocks and throw them in the water so we could have some stepping stones.    

There is also no water in the gulch or at wire pass trail head, so pack accordingly.   

Side note – getting to the wave 

If you are coming to the area it is worth trying to get a permit to visit Coyote Buttes North a.k.a ‘the wave’.  You can apply online three months in advance, and the odds are about 1/300 for the ten permits available.  Another ten permits are available for walk ins at the visitor centre in Kanab the day before, where your odds are better (depending on the season but we were 1/90).  The process is fair and easy, you turn up to the ranger station between 8.30-9.00 to complete an application and they run a lottery (using the old fashion wooden bingo balls in the cage) to see who gets to go.   We sacrificed getting to do the whole buckskin gulch in a day to try and get permits and were unsuccessful, but it was worth it to give it a shot.   Several people were there for their 5th or 6th lotteries, and apparently the record is a German couple who attended 38 consecutive lotteries before being successful.  What the hell you would do in Kanab for 38 days is beyond me….

We did contemplate trying to find our way their without a permit but a) part of me respects the Parks decision to limit visitors to protect the area, and they run a fair process and b) part of me didn’t want to be busted by the Rangers and pay the $1500 fine 

the wave (credit travelmint.com)
Additional notes

We stayed in Kanab as a base to visit the buckskin. We had booked the cheapo sun n sand, but the dodgy owner claimed to have lost our reservation. So we ended up sleeping in a basement room at the barber shop motel for $78 per night as all other options were $250 per night. Kanab has plenty of accommodation but is wildly overpriced and touristy! If you have a tent you can camp anywhere on BLM land for free provided you are 500 feet from a road.  

Vermilion Cliffs en route to the Gulch
Everyone in Kanab recommends Escobars for Mexican food.   I don’t think any of them have been to Mexico – worst and blandest Mexican I have ever eaten!  I don’t think this is the fault of the Mexican owners, more a problem of them catering to local taste buds.   Instead go and eat at Rocking V cafe where the bison steak and key lime pie are stonkingly good 

Visited September 2016