Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona!

19th Dec 2019

Monument Valley

Photo of Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona! by Radhika K

A travelogue about our road-trip through the vast red lands of Utah and Arizona where time stays still, and the landscape changes with moving sunlight!

Last Christmas, we rented a Jeep in Las Vegas and embarked on an eight days long road trip in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Endless empty roads, gorgeous rusty-red landscapes, starlit skies, and subzero temperatures were our companions for the next few days. Almost every evening we changed our destination and moved further up the loop while we used our daytime for hiking and exploring. We looped through 3 different states, all five national parks in Utah, one state park, national monuments, and Indian reservations. According to Google Maps, we spent about 1100 miles on the road from start to end, not including internal travel. The trip was planned with help from our dear friend Savita and a wonderful blog I chanced upon Special thanks to both of them.

The rocks in this part of Utah and Arizona get their color from the oxidized iron content and are found in various shapes such as spires, arches, buttes, natural bridges, canyons, hoodoos to name a few. The intensity and angle of sun rays influence the landscape dramatically and makes this area a photographer’s paradise. The dance of light on these rocks during sunrise or sunset is a sight to behold.

In the presence of these enormous rocks and vast lands, one could not help but become more introverted pondering on the minuteness of our existence, the purpose of this life, the meaning of it all! To me, it felt like a pilgrimage to a sacred land!

Day 0: Las Vegas, NV

We flew from San Jose, CA late in the evening to Vegas, rented a red jeep, bought thermals at Kohl's, and stayed overnight to start our journey the next morning.

Photo of Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona! 1/1 by Radhika K

Our first stop was Page, a small town in Arizona. Both Horse Shoe Bend and Antelope Canyons are in its vicinity. We started late in the morning and couple of hours into our drive I got a speeding ticket, my first one in 16 years. What an eventful start! We reached just before sunset and straightway headed to Horse Shoe Bend. The snakelike waterbody surrounding the bend is the Colorado River which has carved most of the landscape in this area; her most famed creation being the Grand Canyon. This bend reminded me of the 'Shiv Pindi' or 'Shiv Lingam'.

Photo of Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, USA by Radhika K

Night Stay: Marriott, Page, Arizona

Dinner was at an authentic Mexican place ”Fiesta Mexicana”. Not a fan of Mexican cuisine but the food served here was simply out of the world. Decor reminded me of the painted wooden toys one gets in Savantwadi, Maharashtra, India.

Fiesta Mexicana Restaurant in Page, Arizona

Photo of Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona! by Radhika K
Day 2

These stunningly beautiful slot canyons are formed by flash floods during the rainy season over a few million years. These are located on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands and can be viewed only through guided tours. A local guide is required mainly for safety reasons as flash flooding may occur without any warning signs. Prior reservation is essential as these are always crowded with visitors. Luckily we were the first groups to enter the Upper Canyon, and we got to enjoy a private walk without crowds. After this, we took a tour of Lower Canyon which is a mile away and then stopped for lunch at a roadside place called Birdhouse famous for fried chicken. Our next destination was Monument Valley. We wanted to reach there before sunset but we missed it by a whisker. It was a disappointment.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Photo of Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA by Radhika K

Night Stay: The View, Monument Valley. (run and operated by the Navajo Indian tribe)

Dinner was Frybread Tacos at a restaurant in the View Hotel. Frybread is the Native American bread that is deep-fried and it tasted similar to Indian bhatura. Very yummy indeed!

Day 3

Monument Valley is a vast desert land with spectacular sandstone rock formations. Over millions of years, natural elements like wind, water, and sun have caused erosion changing their shape and surface. Eventually, everything will end up as loose sand. And yet, right now, these rocks are standing in that red desert looking tall and permanent! Monument Valley is overwhelmingly beautiful yet very soothing at the same time.

The East and West mittens and Merrick Butte

Photo of Monument Valley, Arizona, USA by Radhika K

In the morning we drove through the valley and in the late afternoon we hiked the Wildcat trail which goes between the mittens. As we were returning, the Sun started to set. Today we were in luck and got to experience the sunset that evaded us the day before. On our way to Moab, we stopped at the famous Forest Gump Point!

Photo of Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona! by Radhika K

Night Stay: Hyatt Place, Moab Utah. We stayed in Moab for 2 nights as both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are accessible from here.

Dinner was pizza and pasta at Antica Forma, an Italian place in Moab.

Day 4

As the name suggests, Arches National Park has many arches. Delicate Arch is the most famous attraction in the park and is depicted on the license plates of the state. It’s a 52 feet tall free-standing arch with a dramatic shape and placement. Most of the hiking in this park is on rocky terrain with very little shade but the experience is worth it. We hiked to Double O Arch and Delicate Arch .

A vista point called the three Gossips.

Photo of Arches National Park, Utah, USA by Radhika K

Delicate Arch

Photo of Arches National Park, Utah, USA by Radhika K

As we would be staying in Moab for one more night, there was no hurry to return from the park. We stayed back for stargazing. We walked to the Windows Vista point in pitch darkness and stood there quietly looking at the star-filled skies.

Night Stay: Hyatt Place, Moab, Utah

For dinner, we went to Fiesta Mexicana again which is a chain, and enjoyed the same food that we so devoured in Page.

Day 5

This park is huge in size and has 3 different districts inside it. Island in The Sky district, named after the sheer-walled Mesa, is the most accessible and closest from Moab. Colorado and Green rivers can be viewed snaking among the rugged canyons and other rock formations. We first visited the Dead Horse State Park for a better view of the Mesa from the top.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Photo of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA by Radhika K

Murphy's Point

Photo of Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA by Radhika K

By the time we left for our next destination, it was already getting dark. The park ranger had alerted us about an impending storm and we were a bit worried about driving in the unfamiliar terrain. Dinner was at McDonalds as we had no time to stop. Highway 24 is a scenic route with sand dunes on both the sides but we passed it all in the dark and did not see anything at all.

Night Stay: Broken Spur Inn, Torrey, Utah

Day 6

Last night, we reached Torrey in pitch darkness. In the morning, to our great surprise, our jeep was covered in snow. We stayed at Broken Spur Inn which is a family-run Hotel and were treated to some nice American breakfast fare. We met a veteran hiker in the dining room who advised us to stay away from challenging hikes because of the heavy snowfall and suggested we try Hickman’s bridge. It was snowing when we entered the park. It looked surreal like Winter’s wonderland!

Winter's Wonderland!

Photo of Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, UT, USA by Radhika K

Hickman's Bridge

Photo of Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, UT, USA by Radhika K

We left early for Bryce Canyon as the weather was not very good. The drive to Bryce was scenic and we reached in daylight

Night Stay: Best Western Plus Grand Hotel, Bryce, UT

For dinner, we went to a grand Christmas Eve buffet at Ruby’s Inn across the street from our hotel. The wooden dining room was nicely warm and the hot food and huge selection satiated the soul.

Day 7

This day was just a snowfall day. The whole park was buried under a thick layer of snow. It has the highest concentration of hoodoos (irregularly eroded spires of rocks) but we could barely see them. We walked around a bit and then returned to our hotel determined to visit the park again.

Photo of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA by Radhika K
Photo of Road Trip through the Red Rocks of Utah and Arizona! by Radhika K

Night Stay: Holiday Inn, Springdale, Utah.

We had an early dinner at Ruby’s Inn again and then left for Springdale (which is closer to National Park), on a scenic byway 12 through Red Canyon.

Day 8

This was our second visit to this magnificent place. Driving is restricted here and one must use the park shuttle service to reach the interiors. We did a bunch of hikes here such as Emerald Pool Trail, Watchman’s Trail, and the Riverside Trail that took our hiking score to 40 miles. There was not enough time or planning to do the Narrows and the Angels Landing. We made plans for doing these next time and said goodbye to this park.

Photo of Zion National Park, UT, Springdale, UT, USA by Radhika K

Dinner was at Rosita’s Santa Fe Diner outside the Zion National Park. The pink decor and lighting stood out, the southwestern, Mexican food was good as well. A woman from a family sitting nearby approached us. All of them looked like Italian or Spanish-Americans. She told us that she heard us speak in Marathi and came to say hello. She was raised abroad and her parents came from the same part of India as us and spoke the same language. I could have never guessed her background just by looking at her. Travel always springs some surprises!

As we started driving back to Las Vegas, we heard stories of record snowfall near the California-Nevada border resulting in road closures. Luckily it did not impact our trip. In general, December is a good time to visit this area despite the freezing temperatures as it's relatively less crowded. Summers are overpacked with visitors and backed up traffic is very common. Also, keep in mind to carry food and water at all times as restaurants are not available inside most of the parks and monuments with an exception of Zion National Park.

We reached Vegas late night and stayed at Rio. After eight full days in the wilderness, the casino lights brought us back to the artificial world. And with this our road trip to this beautiful land came to an end! Each day took us to a new place, showing us new wonders! It was a fun vacation with lots of family time, outdoor activities, good food, and stunning vistas to cherish. It also made for a deeply spiritual experience!