The great parks of Utah – Part 1
Utah is known for its great national parks which include Arches NP, Canyonland NP, Capitol Reef NP, Bryce Canyon NP & Zion NP (in addition to a countless number of State Parks, National Monuments, Recreation Areas, etc.). We decided to explore these parks going roughly from the north-east side to the south-west starting with the parks around Moab. The town of Moab is situated roughly between Arches NP and Canyonland NP and provides all the necessities for camping, hiking, biking, horse riding, kayaking etc. in the area. We had a cute KOA cabin on its outskirts whose highlight was a gas-based grill which resulted in great BBQ without the smoky smell to all our clothes.
The great attractions of Arches NP, as implied by the name, are the natural arches formed by the water in the stone. We reached the park in the evening after escaping the surprising rains of central Utah, just in time to visit two versions of these geological structures, the bulky South and North Windows on one hand and the Double Arch on the other. These structures in the middle of the surrounding high desert, carved out of the red stone are truly awe inspiring.
We returned the next morning, this time under a blazing sun to see more arches: The Broken Arch, the Sand Dunes Arch and finally the Delicate Arch (this one only from a distance as the hike was formidable in the sun). Each one of these arches is unique and impressive in a different manner. The park has other interesting structures, although not as famous as its arches, such as the Balanced Rock, a nice canyon trail called Park Avenue and even ancient petroglyphs.
The nearby Canyonland NP is a huge park but we actually visited only its most accessible part the Island in the Sky which is basically a large plateau (Upper Mesa) carving sharply into canyons on all its sides. We even contemplated on taking the white rim road surrounding it but it seems like an extremely tough 4X4 road, so we decided to play it safe and drive only on the plateau itself. The views in all directions were stunning with sharp falls of the plateau and canyons of all shapes in all directions. In addition to the amazing viewpoints and the hikes along the rim we had a couple of additional hikes, on to the huge Whale Rock which looks exactly like a … whale and another one to yet another arch, this time the Mesa Arch which is standing over one of the canyons.
Leaving Moab, we took a rough 4X4 road, which two days before was blocked due to floods, to reach the Mill Canyons Dinosaur trails: two trails in the middle of the desert, the first leading to a large concentration of dinosaur footprints and the other to a riverbed with a large number of dinosaur bones. It was so different from the reconstructed skeletons and prints that you see in a museum but for the first time demonstrated what hunting for these ancient findings really looked like. Sadly, we could not continue exploring as the sun was high in the sky and the desert became steaming hot. Thus, we continued our quest for Utah’s parks, heading to Capitol Reef NP, a story which will be told in part 2.