Part 1- In which we find all of the amazingness Utah has to offer and it’s way more than we can squeeze into one blog.
OK- so Utah wins the grand prize for being the most underrated state yet. Of course, Mormons, climbers, skiiers and Sundance Film Fest attendees have surely known this secret for decades- but Utah is FRIGGIN’ AWESOME.
We started things off in Salt Lake (which technically didn’t make a lot of sense coming out of Colorado- but we had a friend to visit in the city and we were itching to see the Bonneville Salt Flats). Firstly, HUGE, enormous and emphatic thanks to our friend Elizabeth for putting us up in her adorable apartment and for showing us around town!
The Bonneville Salt Flats have been on my bucket list ever since a friend recommended them to me in college. He described driving on them like “rolling across a giant piece of paper that goes on for miles.” To me that sounded like magic, and I’ve hoped to see them in person ever since. They didn’t disappoint!
It was still the wet season when we visited in mid-April. In the winter, a layer of water sits atop the flats, but in the summertime, they dry out. The water made the flats a little hard to walk on, but the effect made for beautiful reflections! The salt underneath the water was crystalline and sharp, especially hard to walk on with bare feet- but the landscape was out-of-this-world beautiful.
We visited the main viewpoint off the highway first, but drove to the land-speed driving range next for some high-jinks. The car looked like a disaster afterwards, but it was worth it (aaaand the three car washes we had to put it through to get all of that salt off). A note to potential visitors: bring a compass! We got lost after doing all of those wheelies, and things got a little scary on the way back as we drove into deeper water and lost sight of the main road. We found it eventually, but a compass would’ve helped!
The next day we visited Temple Square, the downtown home of the Mormon church. Because Salt Lake was founded by Mormons, their presence in the area and overall state is very strong. The campus was groomed and spotless, in glorious spring bloom. Since we aren’t Mormon, we tried to stay out of people’s way and smile politely at the smartly-dressed churchgoers. We explored the grounds and visitor’s center, where we eventually stumbled across “Space Jesus” (a statue that someone had told us about, but didn’t entirely make sense to us until we saw it towering at the top of a spiral ramp with a fantastic galaxy mural encircling it.)
Although the main temple isn’t open to the public, a scale model can be found in one of the visitor centers. It looks every bit a tiny dollhouse filled with the most lavish details, like a ring of golden ox statues holding up a baptism pool, and service rooms so ornate they’d make Marie Antoinette swoon. It made us wish we could see inside the real building!
Elizabeth later took us on a sunset hike to The Living Room, a sweet spot with a view of downtown Salt Lake. Several rocks at the top of the trail have been fashioned into chairs, thus the ‘living room’ moniker. This path (and the resulting view) solidified for us how beautiful Salt Lake is- a city surrounded by mountains and full of good vibes.
With full hearts and well-rested spirits, we departed Salt Lake for the first of Utah’s National Parks. Both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks are close to the town of Moab, in the southeast part of the state. Moab turned out to be a town with lots of personality- it started a trend that we’ve followed ever since (that is, really cute, outdoorsy small towns located next to National Parks). We are already scheming ways to get back to Moab, since we didn’t have much time to explore the town itself.
We started with Arches, which really, truly blew our minds. The landscape at this park is so big, so grand and so alien- and then there’s the arches themselves (the park contains over 2,000), miracles of nature formed under just-right conditions.
That’s the famed Double Arch, above.
Delicate Arch is definitely the most famous of the arches here (it’s featured on the state license plate and quarter). It’s a steep hike to get up close to it, but it’s a breathtaking sight.
We tried something new in Moab, which turned out to be a great success- the GyPSy Guide app for our phones. Since we had limited time in these parks, we figured an audio guide might be helpful in removing some of the guesswork. These guides turned out to be really helpful, since they are connected to your phone’s GPS. The audio points out things you are moving past on the road, and lets you know which stops are must-sees and which to do if you have the time. We downloaded guides for both Arches and Canyonlands. We plan to use them again in the future, and highly recommend them to anyone with limited time!
After being blown away by Arches, we were cautiously optimistic about Canyonlands. We’d heard about the park a little bit this year, but had honestly never been familiar with it. Given our modest presumptions about the park, the real thing was yet another mind-blower. I mean, whoa. Look at it!
Canyonlands is HUGE- it consists of 4 different districts (Island in the Sky, The Needles, the Maze and the rivers that run through the park). Each part is accessible from a unique place- you can’t drive across the whole park on a single road due to the unique landscape. We only had time for Island in the Sky, which is the large mesa that towers above the canyons below.
We couldn’t believe how epic the canyons were here. On the cusp of heading down south to Arizona to see The Grand Canyon, it’s hard to imagine canyons more vast and epic than these. Although this park is a little sparse on hikes, it makes up for it with some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve ever laid eyes on. As we said above, we are already scheming ways to get back here, imagining summers in the desert filled with river rafting and hiking. These parks, Moab, and the entire region are what outdoor-enthusiast dreams are made of.
So, spoiler alert- this isn’t the end of Utah! We did something unique with Utah and Arizona because of the particular itinerary we chose- we’ll be dipping down to Arizona and then coming back up for more of Utah’s natural wonders before heading to Nevada.
More soon on our adventures in Arizona!