I got my first glimpse of Utah canyon country right after graduating from college. With my hard-earned bachelor’s degree in hand, I decided to celebrate by heading out west to see Yellowstone and the national parks of southern Utah.
I grew up on the Atlantic coast of Florida, so our family vacations involved either Gulf Coast beaches or Disney World. Southern Utah’s remote wilderness of meandering rivers, deep canyons, and redrock sandstone was like another planet to me, and I was awestruck by the surreal landscape I saw. I was hooked, and one year after that first trip, we moved from Florida to Colorado, where I could get to the canyons of southern Utah in less than a day’s drive.
Over the next 15 years or so, the drive west to Utah via I-70 became second nature to me. Two or three times a year, I would trek over Vail Pass (sometimes in less-than-ideal weather conditions) to camp, hike, raft, and do whatever it took to see the canyons from as many different perspectives as possible. I even considered becoming a raft guide, but after swimming my first whitewater rapid (not on purpose), I decided I might not be cut out for that.
I read every book I could get my hands on about the area’s history. I studied the area’s geography and learned the names of geologic formations. If I happened to be on a flight from Denver to the west coast, I would mildly annoy the people sitting next to me by pointing out landforms to them, saying, “Hey look, there’s the Waterpocket Fold.” When I’d tell my friends in Florida that I was headed to Utah for a few days, the response would be, “Again? Don’t you get tired of that place??”
Utah canyon country became my refuge. If life was dealing me some stress, all I had to do was go sit on the edge of the Green River Overlook in Canyonlands National Park, or dangle my feet in the Escalante River, or walk along the canyon floor of Capitol Gorge. It’s kind of like looking at those photos of the Earth taken from space: it not only humbles you; it quickly helps you put things in perspective.
During my many hikes in canyon country, I talked to lots of people I met on the trails. I’d usually ask them what areas they planned to visit, and I started noticing that most visitors went to the same four or five locations: Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, and the Grand Canyon. While those are all worthy of a visit, it struck me that many folks were missing out on a bunch of other interesting places that I’d discovered. So, I’d pull out my Utah map (not on an iPad, but a real paper map!) and show them the other sites they should try to fit into their itinerary.
I also paid attention to the questions people were asking. And that’s how the idea for a book started taking shape in my head. But I didn’t want to just write another standard travel guidebook…how long is the trail, what kind of rocks will you see, what’s the elevation, etc. There are plenty of those books already. Instead, I wanted my book to tell a story about each location: how three young climbers from Colorado became the first people to summit The Titan in 1962; the recreational flyer who flew his fixed-wing plane through Corona Arch more than 400 times; the family who lived in a one-room cabin near Delicate Arch years before the national park was established; and the origin of the huge crater in Canyonlands National Park that scientists have debated over for decades.
You could spend a lifetime exploring Utah canyon country and not run out of amazing locations to explore, so it wasn’t easy for me to choose the 20 places I included in the book. I narrowed it down by selecting places that are fairly easy to get to. You don’t have to be a hard-core adventurer; none of the hikes are longer than five miles roundtrip. My hope is that the book will help visitors make the most of the limited time they have in the area—canyon country in bite-sized chunks, as I like to say.
As for this blog, this is where I post information about hiking, camping, activities, and just about anything related to visiting canyon country. And I love comments! If you’ve been to a place mentioned in a blog post, please share your experience with us, or tell me something I might not know about it.
My book, Utah Canyon Country: 20 Must-See Sites and Short Hikes, is now available at retail locations throughout southern Utah, including Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks. For a full list of locations, visit the Book page.
Happy red rock travels!