Waking up early, 18-degree weather, frozen roads, overfilled coffee mugs and a full tank of gas: the beginning of a four-day road trip through Utah. On the agenda were three famous national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion. We packed the car, grabbed our bags and looked forward to a quick trip through some of the United States’ most famous destinations during the heart of winter.
First stop was Moab, Utah — home to Arches National Park. After driving all day through the center of New Mexico, we arrived in Moab and were welcomed by small shops lining the classic, small American town and the sounds of cheering coming from up the street. We parked the car and ran toward the noise, landing in the middle of a local trucker’s Christmas parade. We found ourselves standing in an unfamiliar town feeling like locals as we wished happy holidays to the decorated trucks that passed us. After the parade and one too many candy canes, we headed back to our hotel in need of a full night’s rest before our busy day in Arches National Park.
We woke up early this morning, looked out the window and saw only white. While we slept, Moab received 10 inches of snow, but that didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots and heading into this much-anticipated national park. We stood among bright red rocks decorated with snow, looked up at the arches that towered above us and walked through mazes of ancient rock. We may have spent the day hiking in knee-deep snow and scaling frozen walls that fell into deep canyons, left with damp and cold feet, but it was impossible to not appreciate this incredibly unique place.
After a full day in freezing temperatures, I looked forward to a long drive in a warm car. We drove west toward Bryce Canyon National Park, passing red canyons as our Queen CD guided us down the windy roads. When we entered Bryce Canyon, we found ourselves surrounded by pine trees and more snow. Like Arches, the park was empty, but this time we stood among hoodoos — unique, tall and thin rock formation — by ourselves. Vibrant oranges and reds peaked out beneath the white snow in the canyon as we hiked through this extraterrestrial landscape. As we left the park that evening, I watched the sun descend, lighting up the canyon rock behind us. The colors became orange and then red and then brown in the rearview mirror as we drove farther and farther away.
Today was the final day of the trip and the park I looked forward to seeing the most: Zion National Park. Instead of trying to see the entire park in one day, we decided to spend our day doing just one long hike called Observation Point. We woke up early, strapped our ice chains to the bottom of our boots, packed too much trail mix and headed up the icy trail. The hike winded up about 2,000 feet for 6 miles along the side of one of Zion’s great walls. When I reached the view at the top, I looked nowhere but down as the view was only below me. I instantly forgot about my burning legs and frozen lungs as I stood before Zion National Park, looking west as the river carved its way out of the canyon and into the Utah valleys. I pulled out my trail mix and decided to sit and enjoy this vast and colorful view. As soon as I sat down, I noticed two chipmunks dancing at my feet. Maybe they danced in hope that I’d drop a peanut, or maybe they danced purely for the joy of living in such an incredible place.