5 Utah national parks in winter

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in National Parks, USA | 10 comments

5 Utah national parks in winter

On a cold and sunny day in late December I drove south from Salt Lake City to Moab, Utah, with my old friend Joe. It’s one of those American things I’d dreamed of doing – cruising along in a big, old Yankie F100 ute with mountain bikes in the back and a dear friend at my side, feeling like I was in a movie.

rsz_mountainbiking_moab

We followed the Wasatch Plateau with uplifted mesas of different ages and saw frozen rivers and waterfalls and places where it appeared water had seeped out of the hillside and frozen into dozens of fingers. Then the spectacular snow-capped La Sal mountains rose out of the desert floor as a backdrop to the orange-pink desert coloured mesas. We drove straight up to Dead Horse Point to watch the sun set over the desert and the Mountains. The Colorado River flows through the bottom of the canyon and is almost as spectacular as the Grand Canyon but not connected. The snow-covered mountains add unexpected beauty to the whole amazing scene. I watched until it was almost dark, contemplating the fragility of human life against the awesome depth of the 375 million year old canyon.

The next day, from Moab we went for a short walk to Corona Arch – that’s the one you’ve probably seen in the photo with a plane flying through it and people looking like dots underneath. We sat for a while and enjoyed the peace and beauty of the canyon and the towering red rocks behind us. Then we rode mountain bikes along the spectacular Gold Bar Rim Trail which rose almost vertically to about 200 metres above the road.

rsz_mountain_biking_arches_np

It’s hard to describe the beauty of the place, the enormity, the colours and the mountainous backdrop. It was lots of fun – my first mountain bike ride and a tough introduction. After going up so steeply we went straight back down and then up again. There was sand so deep I had to walk for fear of slipping off.

rsz_near_moab_ut

The following day, after breakfast in a roadside ‘diner’, we drove from Moab to Bryce Canyon. All day we drove past more spectacular and changing scenery, through areas of sculpted Navajo sandstone with colours like central Australia and mesas and buttes of all shapes, sizes and colours. Some looked like the ancient sand hills that there were, some were black and crumbly and dotted with basalt rocks blasted out of a volcano.

Some mule deer walked right up to me. We saw the enormous Navajo mountain, sacred to the Indians, petroglyphs on rocks and frozen creeks with beautiful cottonwood trees growing alongside, against a backdrop of red cliffs. It was like driving through Grand Canyon a few hundred million years ago. Geology makes sense when all the layers are visible, along with the faulting, lifting and other movements.

We drove up Boulder Mountain through Aspens and Ponderosa Pines and then higher, into Spruce/Aspen forest. The view was vast and varied all the way back to the snow capped La Sal Mountains, about 100 miles distant, across Capitol Reef National Park and many other buttes, mountains and canyons. A large antlered mule-ear deer leaped through the snow. The road narrowed so that in one spot it dropped down to deep gorges on both sides then went through a deep narrow canyon with a frozen river.

The next day we drove into Bryce Canyon National Park, with its pillars of multi-coloured sandstone, like enormous striped organ pipes, set against Ponderosa Pines and drizzled with snow.

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Then we followed scenic route 89 down to Zion National Park where enormous formations of Navajo Sandstone tower above the road. A tunnel has been cut for one mile through the middle of the rock and after that, the road winds down to the bottom of a rocky canyon.

We drove along farming land toward Kaibab Plateau, which the Grand Canyon cuts through. The colourful Staircase Plateau looked beautiful along the left hand side as we approached the Plateau. On top of the Plateau was a beautiful forest of Ponderosa Pines with fairly deep snow on the ground and sun shining through the trees. We finally arrived at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon just as the sun was setting (North Rim is closed during winter). The Desert View Watchtower was beautifully illuminated by the setting sun.

Next morning, 31 December, we watched the sunrise over the Grand Canyon from Trail View. There was some colour under the clouds and the Canyon looked magical as the sun lit up various peaks inside. The sun very quickly went behind threatening clouds as we started driving back along the rim and it was bitterly cold and windy. An enormous elk leaped across the road near Little Colorado Canyon, which flows into the Grand Canyon.

After stopping for a large breakfast we drove the 12 hours back to Salt Lake City, stopping only for fuel and to build a snowman (special request from an Aussie beach-side friend). We drove back up through the Painted Desert, Marble Canyon, across the big new bridge over the Colorado, Vermillion Cliffs and back up the Kaibab Plateau. The weather was variable and we expected to have to change routes due to heavy snow but that wasn’t necessary.

It felt crazy celebrating New Year in the USA when it was well and truly next year back home.

There are nearly 400 national parks in the USA and they are wonderful to explore. You’ll see some breathtaking sights and it doesn’t take much planning. We covered a lot of miles and 5 national parks in 5 days. The Utah website suggests an 11 day itinerary with a couple more national parks and a few more activities, with closer access from Las Vegas. No matter how short or how long your visit is, Utah is well worth a visit.

10 Comments

  1. mcdonl@iinet.net.au'

    Jane

    we should have a chat about this as we did virtually the same trip in winter as well!

    • Hi Lynne,
      Yes, I’d love to discuss the trip with you. I didn’t know you’d done that too.

  2. jo.cstr1@gmail.com'

    What an awesome trip, Jane and the scenery looks in places to be surreal. I loved your photo of Bryce Canyon National Park, with its pillars of multi-coloured sandstone which do indeed look like enormous striped organ pipes. Those green green pine trees by comparison look like something out of a toy set!

    • Thanks for your lovely comments, Johanna. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and photos. I hope you get to see those canyons too, if you haven’t already.

  3. patti@oneroadatatime.com'

    What a coincidence that we both posted about similar topics. We have been to the Grand Canyon – survived the mule trip – and we’ve been to Bryce and Zion, all of which are like no other places. Beyond imagination and pictures just don’t seem to capture the breathtaking beauty.
    Patti recently posted…Map Us!My Profile

    • Hi Patti, That really is a coincidence, especially since I was there years ago and just decided to write about it recently. They really are stunning, magnificent places like no other. I was wondering why you didn’t mention Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon in your post “Map Us”. Thanks for your comment. I hope you find lots of hidden gems on your cross USA journey.

  4. freya.renders@holidaynomad.com'

    I love National Parks and Utah for sure has some great ones. We did twice a road trip in the area and we would love to go back, it’s so beautiful over there, I could spend months in Utah
    Freya recently posted…Ice Hiking and Ice Climbing in IcelandMy Profile

    • Thanks so much for your comment Freya. I hope you can get back to Utah and stay as long as you’d like to….

  5. kathrynedilligard@gmail.com'

    Salt Lake City is the best. Take me back to Utah..
    Kathryn Dilligard recently posted…thesiteowl.comMy Profile

    • Yes, it’s a great city. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Kathryn.

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