Utah RV Wanderings: Snow Canyon, Zion, Bryce + Escalante
Only once have I traveled in an RV, and it was not my idea.
It was Iceland, the Ring Road and 10 days. That being said, I loved the experience – the mobility and ease, most of all, to roll up to popular tourist spots in our pajamas with not another soul in sight!
When I heard that we would be traveling in RV once again, through the national parks of Utah, I was excited (despite the concerned looks I received when I said “RV roadtrip + in-laws” in the same sentence)!
We flew into Las Vegas where my in-laws picked us up in this magnificent dream-mobile.
Over the next 7 days, we would explore Zion National Park and Escalante, with brief stops in Snow Canyon State Park & Bryce Canyon en route.
Like many parents, their resistance to phone apps + GPS meant that they had maps at the ready, with highlighted routes and even website print-outs with more information.
Bless their analog hearts.
Snow Canyon State Park
With the little research I was able to get done at the end of the semester, I found Snow Canyon State Park fairly quickly through several wedding photographers’ Instagram posts. What intrigued me the most was that these huge geological mounds were petrified sand dunes! The texture of them was like nothing I’d seen before, and I wanted to see it for myself.
Snow Canyon was on our way to Zion National Park from the Las Vegas airport, but we were surprised to find it located just off a main highway, as easy as a to-go diner. It seemed so unassuming based on its accessibility. I mean, take a look at the license plate of the car in front of us. If anything, this place was accessible!
… and wow, the views from the road were incredible.
We chose to do a quick “hike” (1/4 mile round trip), called Jenny’s Canyon.
It was more of a walk, but in the afternoon sun, this was all I wanted – little work and high reward. At the end of the path was a slot canyon. It was my 1st time seeing one, so I was amazed!
( Outfit details: )
Even from the end of the “hike”, we could easily see our RV on the road.
This gives you an idea of the short & easy distance!
We explored just one more lookout at the park, and this was THE ONE. It was recognizable as the photo destination I had seen on Instagram…
however, this place could not be captured in photos.
The sandstone swept across hills like waves, frozen in time.
I could not comprehend the overwhelming beauty of these petrified dunes, and even now, as I look at these images, I feel an inexplicable awe - the brain equivalent of when your eyes have been in a dark room, and someone opens the door flooding the space with a rush of light.
After exploring, I took the opportunity to shoot some artistic, editorial style photos with a vintage Zimmermann dress I had packed just for this kind of photo occasion. (Thanks, Phil, for your elastic patience, which I ever stretch!) I’ll add these photos to the style section of my website as well.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
- John Muir
The terrain of this one look out was so incredibly vast,
it was hard to believe there was more of the park to be seen!
Another quick drive up the road, brought us to an area called…
The white rocks shone from a distance, especially in contrast to the red sandstone surroundings. I do not know what lead to this color difference, geologically speaking, but it was so beautiful. It was surprising to have the whole place to ourselves.
The curved portion of the rocks explained its namesake, yet despite being called “the amphitheater,” it was absolutely silent and peaceful. You can see the amphitheater shape more clearly in the slideshow photos below.
Here’s us hanging out, scrambling up rocks & just enjoying this beautiful place!
While our main destinations were Zion & Escalante, this place was so special to me. I think if I had only visited Snow Canyon, I would have been just as satisfied. This place leaves me speechless.
Zion National Park
We spent a few days here, and it felt good to settle down in a place where our only itinerary was to wake up, climb some rocks, and take in the magnificent views. It truly was relaxing, and for this reason, I took the fewest photos in Zion.
My favorite memory is of the sun illuminating the surrounding mountain faces as it rose and set, the ridges glowing like fire embers.
Upon arriving our 1st day, we were the most energetic and eager to explore Zion and took advantage of the free park shuttle to take in the sights. A leisurely stroll along the Virgin River was the perfect way to take in the views, while carefully avoiding anything too strenuous in the blistering noonday sun.
That evening we planned to hike more.
We had heard of the famous, or rather infamous, Angel’s Landing hike. Many people and sites warned of its challenging nature and final lookout whose sheer drop-off is enough to make anyone weak in the knees.
Being from Hawaii, I wasn’t sure what to expect in this new place. For those who are familiar with lush jungle hikes, you know the difficult conditions that often can occur – mud (lots of it), streams, erosion, landslides, unmaintained and dangerous paths, flash floods, illegal hole-in-the-fence hike entrances, etc.
Considering all of this, Angel’s Landing was … dare I say … easy?!
Maybe I’m exaggerating, but look at these wide walking paths! So well-maintained too!
However, if you are afraid of heights - be aware!
I heard others who were a bit shaken, but for me, it wasn’t a problem in the least bit, since I’m not afraid of heights. With wide paths and a vast horizon to look out upon, it did not seem treacherous.
That being said, going up the trail there is quite an elevation change, meaning some portions with steep inclines. These are manageable with frequent water breaks and snacks!
Also, it’s important to plan the time of day to go.
We did this trail in the late afternoon/evening, when the sun was starting to set and temperatures were dropping. Some things to remember: water, snacks, sun protection, a hat (+ bandana for the sweat), and layers (for the changing temperatures)!
Angel’s Landing took us around 3 hours to complete, including all of our leisure time, water breaks, snacks, and photos.
Now for the big question:
Did we brave the final lookout?
Nope! My husband and his parents are cautious people with moderate unease around heights. Me, on the other hand? No problem with heights at all! I was definitely tempted to edge my way up the narrow ledge, holding onto the chain rail on the inside. But as I mentioned earlier, this hike is one of the most well-known in the park, meaning LOTS & LOTS OF PEOPLE. (Don’t be fooled by my photos - we were joined by lots of other visitors of all ages and languages.) I wasn’t too excited at the idea of being sandwiched between tourists on this narrow ledge… I trust myself, but I don’t trust them!
There were gorgeous views from the main lookout, so we enjoyed those before heading back down.
( See the park shuttle bus for scale? )
Zion is, in a word, grandiose.
The way back down the hike was a breeze & I even ran parts of it since the path makes it easy. However, it’s important to note that as evening was approaching, the temperature was dropping fast!
LAYERS ARE CRUCIAL.
The following morning, we went on a semi-sunrise hike and the “brisk morning air” was something else! Considering my Hawaii upbringing, the high 40’s-50’s degree temperature was FREEZING!
You can see my pink nose, morning grogginess & three layers of shirts below:
That was it for our time in Zion. Next was a stop in Bryce Canyon while en route to Escalante. Here’s a couple snaps of this amazing place off the side of the road…
(name has been forgotten, but it’s a known spot)
A few hours later, we arrived in…
I had done no research whatsoever of this place, nor did it jog any mental images in my head when I heard of it. When I finally did approach the edge of the ring trail to look out onto the canyon, I was in shock!
WHAT WAS THIS PLACE?!
I had never seen anything like it, and to be there in person to feel so small against the vast landscape is something that photos cannot depict. The shifting colors of the rock were especially beautiful & I couldn’t get enough of it. In one area, you could even still see snow (below).
I could smell the scent of trees in the air - pine and cedar.
Here are some photos from a brief walk we took down into the canyon:
We were also impressed by the park’s restaurant, which we didn’t expect to have many healthy options, but the food was quite good with plenty for us aspirational-vegetarians.
The week seemed to fly by, as we we arrived to our last leg of the trip…
Not a mainstream destination of national park visitors, this tiny and predominantly Mormon town harbors some of the most beautiful destinations for canyoneering and rappel.
So what in the world was I doing there?
Hearing the word rappel made me queasy, and that feeling of propelling myself away from the safety of a sturdy and safe wall, held only by thin cords, made my stomach do turns.
This queasiness certainly doesn’t run in the family, however, as our cousin lives and works in Escalante as an experienced canyoneering guide. After a trip with some friends, Andrew fell in love with the terrain & notion of unexplored adventure, with gorges and canyons yet to be mapped out. And so he returned!
It seemed bizarre to see a familiar face in such a foreign landscape, but it was also comforting. This town wouldn’t be the sort of place I’d stop, if that explains anything. A couple simple diners & one main street comprised their downtown. Oh, and they just opened their 1st bar. Ever.
Over a few welcome beers, Andrew explained the controversy that arose over this bar in Mormon country. It wasn’t anything that would stick out amongst a gentrified, yuppy area of say, Denver - cafe lighting, chalk board signs, nachos, and flat screen TVs. But here, in Escalante?
To visiting adventurists? An oasis.
What a fascinating place…
And then Andrew told me about the liquor closet. No, that’s not the name of some EZ Mart.
It is literally a closet the size of a middle schooler’s locker except built with chicken wire, filled with various liquors, all under lock and key at the local canyoneering equipment rental / guide outpost / café.
I had to go see it.
One campfire and several badly mixed whisky drinks later, it was time to sleep early in preparation for the morrow’s adventures. Andrew would show us the ropes of what he does on the daily, taking us on a canyoneering guided tour. He wouldn’t tell us where, since all conditions are ever changing, he says. “Up until the last minute, even driving the tour out, we guides are making decisions based on the weather and the individuals.”
Having never gone canyoneering before and my aversion to rappelling, I was unnerved by this lack of information. I pestered Andrew enough for him to tell me not to bring my DSLR camera or wear any clothes I don’t want torn up from rubbing against the rough sandstone in the narrow canyon.
I was completely out of my element,
and ultimately decided to borrow everything, from head to toe. Andrew’s clothes fit me enough & Phil’s mom’s hiking shoes were much more appropriate for this mystery adventure than my pristine white Allbirds.
Now, the rappelling part.
I can’t believe I overcame my fear, but I did it… 80 feet with sweaty palms, white knuckles, and faith in my breath to carry me through.
What I didn’t know is that this wasn’t the only fear I would face that day. Wait until we get to the waist-deep pools of mud and ice-cold water.
I definitely tried to avoid submerging myself for as long as possible…
( This move earned me the title of princess for the rest of the day. )
But eventually it was inevitable.
We even had to rappel into a pool of cold, muddy water - my ultimate combination… and proof that I conquered my fears that day!
(Boy, was I glad I didn’t wear those white Allbirds shoes)
Many parts of the canyon were tight, but luckily I wasn’t bothered by that at all.
Andrew did a fantastic job guiding us through it all & was a total pro!
The depth of the canyon was extensive & after several hours, sated with our canyon adventures, we took a shortcut up and out. The view from above was shockingly vast, but even more surprising was that you could not tell what canyons and beautiful gorges lay hidden below. It looked like a simple flat landscape - and thus is the mystique, so to speak, of Escalante.
It was mind-blowing to think that Andrew does this everyday, and even if he weren’t guiding tours, he’d be out here for the sheer joy of it all.
How different a terrain from my island home.
That night we ate an amazing and well-deserved meal at the acclaimed restaurant Hell’s Backbone, of New York Times + New Yorker fame. It was delicious and the perfect end to our weeklong adventures in Utah.
Though we had just scratched the surface with this trip, I feel thoroughly intrigued and know I will return to see more of Utah & visit the other national parks like Arches and Moab.
Until then, Utah.
Maybe next time, I’ll bring my own hiking shoes…