Stunning vistas. Unbelievably dramatic landscapes. Surreal sunrises and sunsets. And these breathtaking scenes change based on the season of visit. Golden red rocks under the summer sun give way to snow-sprinkled red rocks in winter. Thats Utah for you….
Utah beckoned us this winter and we covered Bryce, Monument Valley, Arches and Canyonlands National parks. While winter provides stunning sights and lesser crowds, there are much lesser opportunities for hiking. The alternative is hiking in 100 F summer weather; I`d rather bundle up!
Bryce Canyon was the first stop and greeted us with snowfall. We caught sunrise there and drove around to various viewpoints until snowfall grew heavier and daylight was fading.
As the afternoon got snowier, we started driving towards Page (which is right at the border of Utah and Arizona). We spent the night there and took the afternoon tour of the Upper Antelope Canyon. Since the areas belong to the Navajo Indian tribe, the area is accessible only via tours, most run by local tribe communities. Words and pictures don`t begin to describe the colors and formations in the canyon. The most characteristic pictures arise when beams of sunlight radiate down from openings in the top of the canyon. It was not sunny when we went inspite of which the sights were breathtaking.
After Antelope Canyon, it was a short drive to Horseshoe Bend. The trail from the parking lot to the view is an easy hike through red sand, navajo sandstone which is very common to the area and embedded white calcite stones which glimmer in the sand. The Canyon itself has striated layers of rock carved over thousands of years. The trail leads you to the view of Horseshoe Bend from the rim, which is spectacular. A thousand feet below you is the Colorado River which helped carve the rock out and created this so aptly named bend.
We headed over next to Monument Valley. After the 2 hour odd drive, we reached our hotel in Monument Valley. Again, a Navajo property, the View is a hotel that offers stunning views of the monuments from ALL its rooms. A good night`s sleep later we woke up in time for sunrise. After breakfast, we set out driving out on the 17-mi drive around the monuments ending at a point known as artist palette, from where you can see the vast expanse with all of the formations. These formations have interesting names such as mittens, elephant butte etc.
After Monument Valley, we drove to Moab to cover Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We planned for sunrise at Mesa arch in Canyonlands NP, about 45 minutes away from Moab. It had snowed the night before and the roads were not cleared. The road from Moab to Canyonlands is really remote and has no services. After an interesting ride and a quick dash from the parking lot to the Mesa arch so that the photographers on our group could get front row seating for sunrise, we reached the arch. There were already a few photographers all set up with their equipment in freezing weather! But its all worth it when your money shot looks like this….
After a well deserved breakfast, we drove over to Arches NP to do the delicate arch hike. Its a 3 mi hike round trip with about a 500 ft elevation gain. Its a breathtaking sight as you suddenly see this arch around a bend on the trail.
After driving around arches to see some more viewpoints, we started on our drive back to Salt Lake City for our flight back home.
This trip was different for several reasons. Firstly, these parks are typically popular for summer/spring/fall visits. Secondly, it was focused on photography – sunsets, sunrises and sights to keep the shutterbugs in the group happy!