Big Love... For Southern Utah
Last week we found ourselves in Nevada with a couple of weeks to kill before having to return to Las Vegas to catch a flight. We decided to take the chance to sneak back up to what is fast becoming one of our favorite states to visit... Utah. We first came to Southern Utah in 2007. Back then we planned a vacation to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. All our friends gave us puzzled looks, not Hawaii, not The Caribbean, but Utah... really?
What we learned on that trip was that we loved hiking, we loved magnificent scenery, and despite being warned otherwise, we were able to get an alcoholic drink. In fact last year before we started traveling full time, we had originally planned to only travel internationally. But our first Utah visit had a strong bearing on our decision to start our travels in the US; we knew there were still wonderful scenic spots and states to visit here at home.
There are lots of things to love about Utah (and quite a few not to, but we'll focus on the positive). Mostly the scenery, but the state is also impeccably clean. Compared to Nevada and Arizona, there seems to be a high sense of pride in the cities we visited. We have camped at a couple of state parks here, including the fantastic Sand Hollow State Park near St George and Hurricane. The park is spacious, and extremely clean. I know describing a campsite as clean might seem a bit odd, but with a picnic table, a canopy to provide shade, a firepit and BBQ grill, normally there are ring pulls, food spills and for sure cobwebs to greet you, but not here. In fact we saw a park employee cleaning the site next to us and he spent 15 minutes scrubbing the picnic table clean. That's dedication.
Sand Hollow State Park was actually not our first choice, we wanted to stay at Snow Canyon on the other side of St George. We couldn't get in there, but it actually worked out really well because the campground at Sand Hollow was more spacious and scenic, and we were able to get one of the best spots in the park. We still went to Snow Canyon for the day and for sure it has stunning scenery, much more dramatic and beautiful than Sand Hollow, but the camping sites looked less appealing. At Snow Canyon, we scrambled over petrified sand dunes, and walked as far as we could along a dark lava tube. We forgot our flashlight so had to make do with cellphones. It really is a great park and well worth the time we spent there.
All of that scenery was just the appetizer that had whet our appetite for the main course. I was hoping to snag a night or two mid week at Zion. I know how hard it is to get a site there with such short notice so I logged onto Reserve America with low expectations. I was extremely happy to find a 5 night stretch over a weekend available to reserve. Someone must have just canceled because it was pretty much the only site they had in the coming week. I hope the people who had to cancel get a chance to come back some day, but their loss was our gain.
Five nights at Zion was blissful. It was everything we remembered and more. The park is crowded, but that's to be expected with world-class scenery like this. Last time we were there we hiked the Narrows (still my favorite hike of all time) and Angels Landing. Well we didn't quite do Angels Landing, one of us has a fear of heights ;-), so we got as far as Scouts lookout. This time, after a chat with a ranger about what we would be facing in terms of heights, we tackled the Observation Point Trail. It is higher than Angels Landing, with a 2148 feet elevation gain but the ledges and trails you walk on are wider, not for wimps but wide enough that vertigo was not as much of an issue. Even though this trail doesn't get you a T-Shirt or a sticker to say you did it, like the Narrows or Angel's Landing, we found this trail challenging, as well as literally and figuratively breathtaking. The views along the canyon were stunning.
While the alcohol laws have improved since we first came 8 years ago, draft beer and alcohol sold in stores is still only allowed to be 4%. We did find a few that were drinkable, the problem is we found we drank twice as much. I'm sure that wasn't the intent of the law. If you haven't been to Zion, I can only say "what are you waiting for?" Because the scenery here is magical and not even weak beer can take that away.