We are not into hyperbole, but quite simply, the following driving route is one of the most rewarding in terms of scenery that could be taken anywhere in the world. The route starts at Arches National Park near Moab in Utah USA and ends up at the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
The section of road takes in seven to eight National Parks. The National Park system was once described as one of America’s greatest ideas and we have to agree with that. Incidentally, while the U.S. had the first in the world. Australia can be proud that it came in next with our local Royal NP just to the north of us on the South Coast of NSW.
It is difficult to recommend a time of year to undertake a journey such as this. Ultimately the period chosen is a compromise. All months of the year have their advantages and disadvantages. We decided to start early April, a seasonal cusp as the USA goes into Spring. The weather is warming up and the chosen route is far enough south to avoid most late season snow. Warning though, nothing can be guaranteed. Snow did fall when we traversed a high point in Utah. As the locals say, “everyone must be prepared for four seasons in a day”.
There is an entry fee at each NP so it is recommended that for this trip you buy the National Parks Annual Pass. Upon entering our first park, Arches, we purchased a pass for $80. After the third visit in a year to a National Park, it has paid for itself.
Near Moab Utah was Arches NP and it awe-inspiring. The variety of shapes and shades of red in the rock formations was breathtaking. Later, with a few national parks under our belts, we reflected that our breath had been taken away on numerous occasions and it was not just the altitude.
Each national park on our chosen route was unique and had its own personality and individual attractions. Near to Arches is Canyonlands NP. Its magnificent sheer scale means it can be appreciated with a viewing from the rim. For those more active, many attractions can be had down within the Canyon. Many may remember the story of the adventurous Aron Ralston. It was in Canyonlands that Aron went orienteering in April 2003 when his arm became wedged between two boulders. After a 6-day ordeal he cut his arm off to survive.
From Moab we headed south along Road 191. Literally, if rock is your thing then this is for you. However, there is far more than rock formations that this road offers. Sixty miles south on this route at Montecello you can deviate south-east down Road 49 to Cortez (Colorado) and soon you will arrive at Mesa Verde NP. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the U.S.
Back to Road 191 and along a bit is Natural Bridges National Monument. This is worth the slight detour and has an easy drive around a circuit with viewing pullouts that have entry points to short walks down into the canyons. This can be very rewarding for the more active.
As you might appreciate at this stage, if rocks are your things then this route being undertaken is for you. Apart from exterior rocks, we ‘rocked-on’ in the interior of our rental car through the on-board-satellite music channels. No Shoes Radio bangs out The Allman Brothers ‘Ramblin’ Man and on The Garth Channel, Willie Nelson is singing Always On My Mind. For quieter moments there is Siriusly (sic) Sinatra, It doesn’t get much better. We swing, tap and step through the Grand Escalante (‘Staircase’) area with it’s sensational names like Hell’s Backbone, Box-Death Hollow, Hole in the Rock, Cedar Breaks, Spooky Canyon and Peak-a-boo.
Next is Capitol Reef NP. It is so called because of a local rock formation that reminded someone of the Capitol building in Washington DC. The Reef refers to the fact that through the geological processes of DUDE – Deposition, Uplift, Down-cutting and Erosion, in technical terms, a monocline has been created. A unique part of the world has been fashioned. Poetry follows the scientific terms and in one brochure it is described as a Wrinkle in the Earth and it goes by the name Waterpocket Fold. Before this area became a NP it was once a Mormon settlement that was based on fruit orchards. Prior to the white settlers, Native Americans inhabited the area. The evidence of this is obvious in petroglyphs (carvings) and pictographs (pictures/drawings) on the monumental stonewalls that date from 300 until 1300 CE.
At Bryce Canyon NP we stay at Ruby’s Inn. Ruby brought his family to the wilds of Utah in 1916. He went to establish a very successful business in accommodation for people who wanted to visit the nearby Canyon. Bryce Canyon became a National Monument in 1923 and designated a NP in 1928. It’s all about Fins (Canyon Walls), Windows (openings otherwise know as holes) and Hoodoos (bulbous spires). This mesmerizing place is unique and can be appreciated by walks around the rim or down among the Hoodoos (spires).
From Bryce it is onto Zion NP. The route recommended is via the East Entrance. There is an exciting and unique entry through a tunnel built in the 1920-30s and at the time was the longest tunnel in the US. Upon exiting the tunnel, the viewer is left bedazzled and breathless by a huge checker-board monolith. The road continues through to Canyon Junction in Zion Canyon. Visitors must leave their cars at the Visitor Center and board no-cost regular shuttle-bus services that stop at various points within the Canyon. Zion is compact, so rewarding experiences can be had in a day visit. There are magnificent views and/or short walks of varying degrees of difficulty.
We actually didn’t get to go through the East Entrance tunnel on this trip (we had done it previously) because of maintenance on the tunnel. This meant we had to take a roundabout route. From Bryce we drove through Panguitch and over a snowy pass via Road 20 to Interstate 19 where we joined traffic moving at speeds of 75 miles per hour, exhilarating! Taking this route also gave us the opportunity of seeing the Kolob Canyon part of Zion NP, which is only accessible from Interstate 19 just south of Cedar City.
The finale is the Grand Canyon in Arizona and what a way to finish off the route undertaken. There are in fact three points of the compass to view, north, south and west. One would be wise to do some research and select the orientation that meets your particular needs and circumstances. We will give Teddy Roosevelt the last words on the Grand Canyon – ‘Do nothing to mar it … keep it for your children and their children and for all who come after’. As president he declared it a National Monument on Jan 11 1908 and it achieved National Park status in 1919.