Utah and The Big Five by Amanda

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like camping and hiking in Utah in July, I can tell you in one word. Hot! It is insanely, incredibly hot. I’ve experienced hot and humid days in my life, but nothing like this! We knew that spending two and a half weeks in Utah in the month of July would be tough. The plan was to do a lot of hiking in the early morning or early evening, to avoid the heat of the mid-day sun, and that plan tended to work out great. But then where do you hide out during the mid-day heat, especially when you’re living in a tin can and the people you are with are in a tent??!! The answer proved to be…. finding a campground with a swimming pool!!! Another good idea was planning your day so that you were driving to or from your destination during the worst of the heat. A bit of pre-planning went a long way in making sure we could see all that we wanted to of the Big Five and make the most of our time in each National Park.

If you aren’t familiar, the Big Five are the five large National Parks in Southern Utah…. Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. They are some of the most popular National Parks in the country, with Zion being the most popular. All five parks are known for their dramatic scenery, their unusual rock formations and their stellar hiking opportunities. My cousin Terry and I had been planning this trip to Southern Utah for about two or three years, and we made our campsite and lodging reservations well over a year ago. Even though July is insanely hot in this area, the parks get very crowded with summer vacation visitors.

Back to the heat!! It was insane. During one two and a half mile hike in Canyonlands, the four of us went through all of our water, which was over four gallons!! To know that each of us went through one gallon of water, before the hike was even over, is crazy! That two mile hike in Canyonlands had to be the hardest we did over the course of our ten days in Southern Utah. Walking on hot rock in 107 degree heat was very difficult and the kids ran out of energy to even complain. Never have I been so happy to see the parking lot than I was on that hike.

Each of us has a park that was our favorite of the five. For me, I was blown away by the beauty of Bryce Canyon. I found the hoodoo rock formations stunning and I fell in love with the Navajo trail. The Navajo trail takes you down a series of switchbacks to see incredible orange and red rock formations. The formations soar over your head, giving you the impression that you are going down into a canyon, hence the name Bryce Canyon. But it really isn’t a canyon at all, just huge rock formations carved out by erosion over millions of years. I’ve never finished a three mile trail and immediately been willing to do it again, but after Navajo was finished, I would have done it again in a heartbeart.

I think Justin and the kids liked Arches best. It’s relatively small, in National Park standards, and doesn’t have a huge amount of trails in which to hike. Given the amount of people that descend upon Arches, I was worried that we’d barely be able to walk the trails, let alone get some quiet moments with nature. We got to the park around 5pm, and I was pleasantly surprised how empty the park was. We were able to see Balanced Rock and the Windows section without running into too many people, and all the kids loved running through the sand and climbing on the sandstone rocks. It was a mountain climbers dream here, and our son was in his climbing glory!! I will never forget watching the sunset while sitting on the edge of what I think was Double Arch. In any case, it was gorgeous and serene and the perfect way to end an evening.

I also enjoyed our day spent at Capital Reef, where you can feel the presence of the people who have chosen to live here over the course of thousands of years. You can see the remnants of an old Mormon community that once settled here, as well as petroglyphs incised into a cliff face by prehistoric Indians. We enjoyed hiking through a dried up canyon river bed, where you can still see the names of cowboys and early settlers that carved their names into the rock faces. The kids loved exploring the small caves on either side of the “river bed”, where they could climb pretty high into the canyon walls and also get some relief from the heat.

We ended the trip at Zion National Park, which I would consider the Disney World of National Parks. As we expected, the park was insanely crowded. We had decided a year before to stay inside the park at the Zion Lodge, which was one of the best ideas we had, as this helped us get around easier and battle the crowds. Zion’s trailheads are only accessible by their shuttle system, so staying inside the park only makes it easier to get to the trailheads and avoid the long waits for the shuttles around the main parking lots! Plus, the Lodge is just really cool, with views of The Great White Throne. One our first day at Zion, the four of us tackled the Watchman Trail, taking us up to 6, 545 feet to enjoy incredible views of Zion Canyon and the Towers of the Virgin. I am so proud that the kids tackled a three mile hike, with significant gains in elevation, in 100+ degree heat. Micah’s favorite part of Zion was hiking the Narrows trail with Justin. Micah braved the rushing Virgin River in the narrow canyon and came out soaked but extremely happy!! I think we would all like to go back to Zion again, but perhaps not in the busy summer months.

I was very surprised by the amount of foreign visitors in the five parks. I was extremely surprised by the amount of European tourists and families that were camping or hiking in the parks. On one afternoon, my kids were the only native English speakers in the swimming pool, where we heard a ton of French, German and Dutch being spoken. While on a hike, we tend to say hello to whomever we pass by on the trail, and more often than not, the reply we received was in a foreign accent. It was great to see so many Europeans enjoying the beauty of our natural landscape, knowing that we Americans are flooding their cities during the summer months.