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Old 9th February 2018, 01:51   #1
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Default Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

This trip goes back to almost 1.5 yrs. All these days I was under the impression that I had written this travelogue, and hence never looked at revisiting it, until a fellow bhpian asked for the link and that’s when I realized I never wrote it.
This trip happened during the fall of 2016. A friend of mine lives in SLC and I happened to speak with him on whether he was planning any trip during the labor day weekend. He said Utah national parks were on his list, but he had not planned anything. I had only heard about Utah’s national parks from someone, but never read about them. So the curiosity grew and one weekend I browsed through the different websites, only to get amazed with the scenic beauty and diverse regions. While talking casually about it in office, 2 more friends showed interest and soon 2 more wanted to join. I called up the friend and he said they would be 2 people, if the plan was on. So from 2 people we became 7 and we decided we will go to Utah. Since he’s from the area, he came up with some itineraries and after browsing the travel websites, we came up with this plan

Day 0 – Reach SLC before midnight
Day 1 – Start from SLC, reach Canyonlands NP, stay in tents ( or visit Arches, which is closeby)
Day 2 – Visit Arches (or canyonlands if this was done the previous day), travel via monument valley to Kanab, UT. Try to visit horse shoe bend in Page, AZ if possible on the way
Day 3 – Visit Zion NP, return to Kanab, UT
Day 4 – Visit Bryce Canyon NP and reach SLC by night, catch return flight around midnight

We chose Kanab at the destination to stay for 2 nights as it was almost in between Zion and Bryce canyon NPs. Below is a map of what we covered (approx. 1000+ miles in pint to point driving). We chose a circular route, so that we could cover maximum places with little back and forth driving.
Tickets were booked on Southwest while going and AA on return. Southwest had a stopover in Denver whereas the return flight was nonstop

Day 0
Fast forward to day of travel. We worked from home and then called an uber to drop us to the airport. Check-in was quick and soon we were on the way to SLC. When we stopped in Denver, I got a voicemail from enterprise that the car we had selected might not be available. I didn’t have time to call them, so we decided we will go and check the next day. The two other people from two more states had also landed in SLC and considering we were more in numbers that what my friend’s car could accommodate, 3 of us decided to take a taxi as we had more bags. Within 20 mins we reached his apartment. Dinner was already ready, so we just gulped whatever we could quickly. The apartment was not big, so we adjusted using comforters and other make shift beds.

Route map that we followed

Name:  Utah Trip Route.JPG
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Last edited by aditya_rao : 10th February 2018 at 04:27. Reason: corrections
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Old 9th February 2018, 02:20   #2
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Default re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Day 1

We were renting the car from a city location (due to a lower cost) and since the had called the earlier day to indicate some issue, we called them in the morning. It turned out that they did not have a 8 seater car and they were offering a 15 seater van. The news was not comforting, but we thought worst case my friend would take his car and we would rent a smaller SUV (or sedan) if a bigger one was not there. When we reached he told us he would show us the van and then we could decide. We asked him to keep looking for what we had booked. The van was a 15 seater ford (looked more like a local bus than a vacation rental). With only two drivers, we said no as the van was least interesting to drive. After walking in again, he said there is a bigger SUV at a nearby location and that he can drive us there. So we agreed and after about 20 mins, we reached the other rental location. They had a ford expedition (fully loaded) and said that since there is nothing available, he would offer us an upgrade. We were more than happy to take it and after quickly completing the paperwork, we were off to the apartment. Once we reached, it took us another hour to configure the baggage in the trunk ( and deciding who sits where). Once everything was packed-up, we were off to Canyonlands.

The roads are mostly good and speeds go upto 80mph on some of the roads (local drivers mostly go beyond 90 or 100 on these roads). On a sunny day you see lot of varying landscapes as you cross various points. on some stretches the road is exactly straight and the mountains you see in front of you can be 10-15 miles away. We stopped in between for coffee and other breaks and eventually reached the visitor center between 3 and 4 PM. We enquired about doing Arches and canyonlands and the rangers suggested that we should do the arches and other attractions in canyonlands and arches the next morning. There was also a night sky program that night, since the forecast was good for star gazing (at 8 or 8:30 PM if I remember correctly). We had booked a tent near the park (glamping as its called). So after a short drive, we reached the campsite, checked-in and unloaded the bags and got ready. They had trailers with toilets and showers in them. We also ordered breakfast as we would have to leave early the next day. After around 30 mins we headed back to canyonlands entrance and tried to cover as much as possible before sunset. We also had to come back to one of the information stations for the night sky talk.

So after visiting some of the attractions we came back to the information station just in time for the night sky talk. The night sky talk was interesting and then we went behind the building structure where telescopes had been setup for the viewing. My main interest was to capture the milky way and for next 30 mins, I didn’t focus on anything else. After that I also saw some of the objects in the sky through the telescopes. Soon it was the end of the session, so we packed up and headed back to our tents. The tents had heating in them, so after making the adjustments were dozed off for the night.

different road enroute
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From canyonlands view point
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Mesa Arch (looks better at sunrise)
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Our tents
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Milky way (size reduction took away a lot of detail)
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Old 9th February 2018, 08:15   #3
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Default re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Day 2

Being in a tent, you are not immune to the external sounds of people or other movements around you. I woke up atleast 2 times throughout the night and got up early to go around the campsite. Some people had done a campfire the previous night, with a camera in hand, I tried to click pictures of the sunrise. The sky was overcast but with the sun coming up, a big portion of the clouds was going away. After some time we packed up our stuff and got ready. We decided to take a shower after we come back from Arches NP. We wanted to go as early as possible. I have heard that some people do overnight camping in arches (not sure if its allowed or safe) but I have definitely seen milky way pictures with the arch in the foreground. There are no facilities once you start the hike. We reached the entry gate and then after a while we were on the inner roads. You can other structures that resemble buildings but made out of stone. You feel really small in front of these structures. The primary color that you would see is crimson or shades of red, orange (and hence the name red planet in the title). The terrain is nothing similar to what you can see in other parts of the country or even in India.

We wanted to see the delicate arch first then cover other areas. So we kept moving ahead, trying to take photos from the car itself. After a while we reached the parking lot from where the hike starts. As usual if you don’t arrive early, you will not get parking. We went through the parking lot atleast 5 times before finding a car that was moving. The people who go up early will mostly try to come back by 10 or 11. We felt relieved and after quickly parking the vehicle, started our hike. The trail takes you over the big rocks, some muddy areas and after an hour or so we finally reached the destination. We stopped in between for taking photos. A part of the trail is very narrow and you can see the rock on one side and canyon on the other side (hence have to be careful). We rested for a while after reaching the delicate arch. There was a big queue to get into the photo spot. It took another 30 minutes for us to have the arch for our group. After spending some 10 mins, taking turns to click photos, we moved out and went to other rocky structures for taking photos.

The return journey was not easy, but not as bad as earlier. Walkdown on slippery rocks is always dangerous, but we managed to reach without any slips or injury. This place is dry and hot in summers, so it’s always better to carry bottle of water per person and you can get dehydrated very quickly. After some rest we started back towards the entrance visiting other places of interest in the park like balanced arch. We stopped at most places that were next to the roads as going deep inside would take lot of time and we had to reach another end of Utah by night. But if you have time, you can visit Devils garden, broken arch, courthouse towers, double arch and landscape arch (the widest and close to another place of interest)
We had made ambitious plans from arches to Kanab – visiting monument valley and catching the sunset at horse shoe bend. A journey of 6 hrs and around 350 miles, that too taking photos, taking breaks and the time needed at these places. At first it seemed possible, but as we crossed the half way mark it was looking a distant destination. We reached monument valley to find out that there was a ride that we had to take within the tribal park in their vehicles. This meant spending atleast an hour there. Our times were already short of time, so we decided to just take pictures from outside the tribal park entrance and then head to horse shoe bend. After some time, my friend took over the driving (or to say we were short of time, so being an aggressive driver, he wanted to take over). We did not get lot of cars on the highway as it was nearing sunset and for miles together you can see the road, but hardly any traffic.

We managed to reach just around sunset, but didn’t realize we had to walk another 15 mins to reach the horseshoe bend view point. By the time we reached the view point, the sun had already set and all we could see is the view of the horse shoe bend without any sunlight. We spent around 30 mins at that point taking photos and then decided to look for a place for dinner. We found a place around 20 mins away and which was closing in an hour. However when we called we realized it was in Arizona and Arizona does not follow daylight savings, so technically we were 40 mins behind. We could not find any other suitable restaurant, so decided to give Wendy’s a try with their bean burgers for the vegetarian folks and other options for people have meat. We found a Wendy’s close to our hotel in Kanab, so after picking up the food, we checked into the hotel rooms, had dinner and being tired slept off without much discussion.

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building like structures in the arches national park
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entrance to the trail
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another view from the narrow rocky trail
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on the way to delicate arch
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Delicate arch
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balanced rock formation
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Monument valley from a distance
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Horse-shoe bend (not enough light to get a good photo)
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Another one with a higher ISO setting
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Last edited by aditya_rao : 10th February 2018 at 04:12. Reason: added photo
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Old 9th February 2018, 08:29   #4
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Default re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Day 3

The last 2 days of our trip were for the national parks close to our hotel and Zion was the choice for today. Zion was hardly 30-35 mins away from Kanab, so after finishing breakfast, we quickly headed to the park. Zion charges 25$ as entry fees per vehicle. We had a pass, so did not have to worry about paying anything extra. Zion runs buses within the park, which take you between different points in the park. There are multiple parking areas after you get inside and depending on which one has empty spaces, you might have to go around couple of times. As you enter the park you will see the same colors as earlier – red/crimson/orange and their shades. At some places the road is also carpeted in red color asphalt (or some other material). Anyway, once we got inside the only parking we could find was in front of a visitor center (which had a parking fee or 8 or 10$ if I remember correctly). After parking we spent some time looking around and then headed to the narrow’s. You have to walk a considerable distance to reach the starting point of narrows and once we reached that point, we came to the conclusion that we should return. The hike ahead was in water and after a while you could be half submerged in the river for some part of the river. So with a group of 7 people and having a list of things to be done in single day, we decided we’ll rest for sometime, take photos and return. The return hike was equally tiring for some folks, but the thought of seeing other things kept us going.

Next we went to a place called emerald pools. These are actually 3 levels of pools – lower, middle and upper pool. In most of the national parks here I have seen that there is always a tendency to exaggerate the reality, but this was atleast 2 or 3 times of the reality. For the hike you have to do, what you get in return is not worth the hike. We spent a lot of time going up and coming down and were totally disappointed with the time we wasted. At some places you can see water flowing and creating a waterfall, but if you want a real waterfall, better to go to a real big one. We could have seen something else for the time we took to do the roundtrip. After the hike, we were exhausted, so we went to the restaurant nearby and had some ice cream. After that we mostly went to nearby areas and then decided to start our return journey. On the way we found another attraction – pink sand dunes state park. This was on our way to Kanab and a short detour. So we went following google maps and from the main road it was around 15-20 mins. One we reached we thought we had come to the wrong place but when we enquired at the small station, the ranger confirmed that this is the right place. There is an entrance fee you have to give per car (7 or 8 $). There is a short walk from the parking area and then you can see a desert like area with pinkish sand all around. From the main road it would be hard to imaging there few mins ahead you can see a big desert. There is no water source and the area is completely dry. The sand was cool to touch as it was past sunset. We spent some time playing around and then decided to leave for the hotel. We found a good restaurant nearby that was walkable, so thought of spending the extra we had there. Surprisingly they had chana rice as one of the dinner options (it was not an Indian restaurant). After dinner we took a walk around the market area and then came back to our rooms and started to pack up for the next day.

on the way to Zion
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driving into the park
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Park board
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a deer roaming near the parking area
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one of the park buses
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water flow near the starting point of narrows trail
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another view of the narrows
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at one of the pools
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rocky walls within the park
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Pink sand dunes state park (past sunset, using flash was spoiling photos, hence darker photos)
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Last edited by aditya_rao : 10th February 2018 at 04:25. Reason: added photo
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Old 9th February 2018, 11:03   #5
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Default re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Day 4

Today was our last day in Utah and to visit the 4th national park in Utah – Bryce canyon national park. This park is famous for its cone like structures coming out of the ground (called hoodoos) in a big amphitheater. These structures are actually created due to erosion and is not same as a stalactite. After breakfast we loaded all the bags and items into the expedition and started our journey towards the entrance. The park was not as close as Zion, but took a hour and half to reach (around 7 miles). At the visitor center the parking is limited (in spaces and time). After enquiring we found out that there are buses running into the various view points into the park and we had one in about 15 mins. We had to drive few mins ahead into the overflow parking lot. From there we returned and boarded the bus that was about to leave. The bus has fixed stops in the park loop road and you can get down and board the bus again when it arrive at regular intervals.

There are various view points inside the park like queens garden loop, inspiration point, Bryce point, rim trail (where you can walk around the rim to see different views). You can get a guide and map in the visitor center also and the rangers help in highlighting the important view points based on the time you have. Trails also run down into the canyon and I think horse rides are also available. As with other Utah parks, you must carry a bottle of water during summers as you can get dehydrated easily. Some stops also carry filling stations. After covering the view points we thought were good, we decided we drive into the park roads one last time, stopping at other scenic points and then leave the park for SLC. We stopped at two more points and didn’t have any energy left to see anything else as we already had an overdose of Hoodoos. After leaving the park, we stopped at a nearby pizza shop to have some lunch. From there it was a 4 – 4.5 hrs drive to SLC. Our flights were around midnight, so we had to do an after hours return at enterprise (the city locations are not open 24 hrs).

Photos from different viewpoints in Bryce Canyon
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On one of the internal roads
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On the way back to SLC
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Old 11th February 2018, 19:18   #6
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Default Re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th February 2018, 20:44   #7
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Extremely well written travelogue Sir. Loved every bit of it.

Just out of curiosity - Did You not visit Hell's revenge - The place for offroad enthusiasts?
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Old 11th February 2018, 22:52   #8
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Default Re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

Quote:
Originally Posted by Prathiiik View Post
Extremely well written travelogue Sir. Loved every bit of it.

Just out of curiosity - Did You not visit Hell's revenge - The place for offroad enthusiasts?
Thank you! We had looked at hells revenge near Moab, but we only had 4 days and had too many things to cover , so decided to skip the offroading part
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Old 12th February 2018, 00:40   #9
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Default Re: Utah: Trip to the Red Planet on Earth

We visited the Arches National Park a few months ago and found the place to be spectacular. We drove all the way from Phoenix to get here which involved traveling through some of the Indian reservations.
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