14 November 2012

High Desert Road Trip in Utah

The beauty and expanse of Utah

Inspired by my post yesterday, my friend Willie (and photographer for Pedal Dancer) mentioned that he and his wife Liz have always wanted to take a driving tour across the state of Utah in the United States. For Willie and Liz I thought I would map out the highlights of a loop tour. I have two other good friends from France, Jean Paul and Jeannine, whom I have always thought would enjoy this auto tour as well. I have spent years in this area for both work and play and highly recommend Utah for a driving tour.

If you enjoy a road trip through wide open landscape and expansive views - you will love this tour. I warn you it gets hot in the deserts of southwestern United States, so this drive is best done in spring or fall. The roads are great, hotels are plentiful, so are campgrounds, hikes and bike rides are easy, and this is the land of the American Native Indian. You may visit (fee required) National Parks, or free trails.

You'll want to load up your bikes, hiking gear, camping gear, camelbaks, kayaks, climbing racks, or just jump in the car with a good pair of shoes and a camera. Definitely bring a day pack, water, sunscreen, and old fashioned maps (you'll be off the grid at times).

The United States is huge. This is big country, land of gas stations, rest stops, and miles of seeing nothing but horizon and wide open spaces. This recommended loop tour entails about 21-hours of driving. It must be mind-boggling to a visitor from Europe, considering that if you live in Belgium, it takes a mere 2-hours to drive your car from Brugge to Liege, nearly the width of your country. Two hours of driving is nothing in the United States.

Both Utah and Arizona have mind-blowingly gorgeous natural scenery made for a camera lens and a car radio. You may begin your drive from the major cities of nearby Las Vegas, Nevada, or Phoenix, Arizona. This loop is a 6-hour drive from my home in Denver, Colorado. Allow a few days to stay and play in Moab, Utah, where you will find good bike trails and roads, hikes and restaurants. I recommend a vacation of one week for plenty of play time.

The highlighted cities and sites located within the loop tour include: Zion National Park; Bryce Canyon; Boulder, Utah; Moab, Utah; Monument Valley; Grand Canyon; and Sedona, Arizona.  There are over 7 National Parks on this automobile loop route - be sure to buy a National Park Pass.

Zion National Park, Utah (website)
Natural beauty, grand walls of rock, with interesting hikes. Driving in and out of this park is a real treat. The park claims that "Kolob Arch, located deep in the backcountry of Zion National Park, is one of the largest freestanding arches in the world" There are park maps in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Zion National Park. Photo from nps.gov website

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (website)
Millions of years of wind and water have formed delicate rock spires. Views of the park are mostly from the top down.
Bryce Canyon. Photo from bryceviewlodge.com

Boulder, Utah (website)
A beautiful drive along Hwy 12 near the slot canyons of Escalante Canyons National Monument and Capital Reef National Park.
Hwy 12 through Utah  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Moab, Utah (website)
Moab - Mountain Biking capital of the west, with Jeep and great hiking trails
Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park 
Interesting Ranger led slot canyon walks through Arches National Park
Home of the Skinny Tire Festival bicycle rides (road rides in March and September)
and 24 Hours of Moab mountain bike race (every year in October)
A good Moab Information (visitor) Center in town, and a couple good restaurants
The end-point of the epic Kokopelli Trail a 142-mile trail from Colorado to Moab.
And the Incredible White Rim Trail camping/mountain biking adventure loop.
River rafting trips on the tame local stretch of the Colorado River
* warning - Utah has weird (restrictive) alcohol laws.
Photos by Karen of Pedal Dancer
that's me!
Shaffer's Canyon on the White Rim Trail ride.  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Mountain biking and camping with friends. Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
The Moab Century ride passes Castleton Tower (one of my first rock climbs ever!). Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Fisher Towers - good hiking.  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Monument Valley, Utah (website)
Is a movie-set picturesque valley of rock structures and spires, spectacular at sunrise and sunset.
Monument Valley  Photo by TourWestAmerica,com

Kayenta, Arizona
A small city for a hotel stop in the middle of nowhere. Also Tuba City, Arizona, is another choice for a quick overnight stop.
You can drive straight to this viewpoint at Horseshoe Bend near Kayenta.  Photo found on TripAdvisor.com photos of Kayenta
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (website)
Sometimes considered one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, a river trip down the Colorado River through the canyon remains on my bucket list. Reservations are often taken years in advance (river rafting companies). Good visitor center and short to long hikes. Grand Canyon NPS' photostream
The mighty Colorado River flows from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf near Baja, Mexico
 National Geographic video of the Grand Canyon - leave the best for last

Sedona, Arizona (website) (optional detour)
A small artist community with vivid red rocks

... complete the Loop back to Zion (near St George, Utah)

What else is nearby -
Nearby cities of Saint George, Utah,  Flagstaff, Arizona, and Grand Junction, Colorado (with Colorado's National Monument) also have plenty of hotels to begin your loop tour. Lake Powell is located within the loop and is a great lake to rent a house boat in spring or summer and float with friends and family, exploring the various rocky coves. I have fond memories of canoe, kayak and house boat vacations on Lake Powell. Scottsdale, Arizona is located next to Phoenix, AZ and has large hotels with nice spas and golf courses.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is also an interesting southwestern art and cultural city and home to the Santa Fe Century bicycle ride (May).
A festival in Santa Fe. Photo by www.santafe.org
The Loredo Chapel in Santa Fe, NM  Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Enjoy the Santa Fe art walk along Canyon Rd    Photo by Karen at PedalDancer.com
Major airports near the loop car tour are: Phoenix (2-4 hr drive), Las Vegas (3 hr drive), Salt Lake City, (4.5 hr drive), Denver (6 hr drive),  Los Angeles (7 hr drive), not San Francisco (it is not recommended to drive across northern Nevada).

Tour of Utah
The professional road cycling 6-day stage race known as the "Toughest Stage Race in American" takes place every August and is centered north of this loop tour, closer to Salt Lake City, Utah. (website: Larry H Miller Tour of Utah). The stage race is similar to the Tour of California (May) and the USA Pro Challenge (August).
Cities of the Tour of Utah
Little facts: The name Utah is from the Ute Indians. Those who reside in Utah (UT) are called Utahans or Utahns. Utah was the 45th state to join the Union in 1895.
State flag of Utah (their state emblem is a beehive)
Reference books: Fodor's Utah, other Utah guidebooks

So much to do, and right in our own backyard!