We drove straight to Moab from California, stopping only for a night’s rest at a Nevada rest area. Upon arrival in Utah, we immediately met up with Daniel’s parents and grandmother, all of whom had flown in from Seattle to join us for a week on the road.
Daniel’s parents are in their late fifties, and both still work full-time. Though they used a meaningful portion of their annual vacation days to take this trip, it felt like hardly enough time to see even one of the magnificent destinations we visited – let alone six National Parks in six days. When we said our goodbyes a few days later at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it felt like they had just arrived. It was a poignant reminder of the things we don’t miss about working – and one of the biggest reasons we’re thankful to be traveling full-time.
After a hurried half-day drive around Arches National Park, we woke the next morning ready to explore Canyonlands, only to find that their Dodge Durango rental car had completely crapped out. Not just “needs a jump start” out, but “needs to be towed back to the dealership in Salt Lake City and a replacement car brought back to you” out. We burned a full day of their short vacation in Moab, where they had the pleasure of meeting multiple mechanics and I fully familiarized myself with the power outlet layout and variable wi-fi signal strength of the local McDonald’s.
The days that followed were more enjoyable, and we tagged along for trips to Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.
With Daniel’s 87-year-old grandmother in tow, we stuck mostly to the scenic vistas and parking lot walks – each park visit serving as a teaser for our return trips this past week.
Our trip since the family’s departure has looked a bit different, with deeper exploration of each destination and a running average of about 10 miles hiked each day.
We had the great pleasure of meeting up for lunch with Tamara and Chris, our van-dwelling idols from Nomads with a Van, who were wrapping up a housesitting gig in southwestern Utah. On their recommendation, we explored Utah’s stunning Snow Canyon State Park, finding great dispersed camping options just a few miles down the road.
From there, we returned to Zion, where we spent multiple days hiking to Hidden Canyon, Angel’s Landing, and the park’s less traveled Kolob Canyons area (also on Chris and Tamara’s recommendation; thank you!)
We continue to be blown away by the quality of dispersed camping – finding multiple unreal campsites within a ten or twenty minute drive of the Zion Visitor Center. The maps on the Public Lands Interpretive Association web site have been helpful for confirming that we’re on NFS or BLM land rather than crashing in someone’s backyard.
We moved northeast from Zion, intrigued by the million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument marked just to the east of Bryce Canyon on our map. We enjoyed a late afternoon hike through the slot canyon formed by Willis Creek on the west side of the Monument.
The next morning, we explored just a few of the many sights on the east side of the Monument – from bizarre hoodoos in Devil’s Garden, to 165 million-year-old dinosaur prints, to one of the most fun hikes we’ve done in a long time – working our way end-to-end through Peekaboo and Spooky Canyon, two long and narrow slot canyons at times barely wide enough for a modestly portioned human being to fit through.
I wished we could have spent a whole week at Grand Staircase-Escalante – ideally with a 4WD high-clearance vehicle, something we might consider for future endeavors. For now, though, it’s back to Arches and Canyonlands, where we have some unfinished hiking left to do.