A road trip to Utah and Arizona lets one enjoy nature at its best, with canyons, rusty red cliffs, snaking rivers, natural caves and scenic roads.
A trip to Utah and Arizona by road is the perfect introduction to landscapes, where nature in all her glory paints vivid pictures in vibrant hues. When my family wanted to spend time exploring the scenic outdoors, I did not have to think twice. We chose Arizona and Utah in South-West U.S. and spent an entire week travelling from one park to another – hiking trails and enjoying nature’s beauty. There are the famous jaw-dropping canyons, rusty red cliffs, snaking rivers, natural caves and scenic roads in every direction. No wonder hordes of travellers flock to these regions. The best way to explore this magical land is by putting the pedal to the metal through a road trip and with people for company.
As it is part of the Colorado plateau, the ideal time to visit the place is the early winter months. Apart from national parks, Colorado plateau is also home to several Navajo tribal parks operated by the Native Americans, with views of deep canyons and towering buttes, in a brilliantly colourful and rugged desert-like landscape.
There are several ways to access the Nevada-Arizona-Utah triangle. The most popular routes are flying to the Phoenix airport in Arizona or Las Vegas airport in Nevada. We rented a car from the Las Vegas airport and drove to our first destination, the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. En route is the horseshoe-shaped Hoover Dam (famous for Aamir Khan’s Dhoom 3 climax scene) built across the Colorado River that carved the Grand Canyon. All the national parks in the Colorado plateau are well connected by expressways.
The largest canyon on our planet — the Grand Canyon — is 450 km long, 30 km wide, 1.6 km deep and is 70 million years old. Several viewpoints on the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park provide astonishing views of the canyon. We went deep into the canyon to gauge its sheer magnitude and grandeur.
After taking our fill of this marvel, we travelled to Page, Arizona, our next destination, where we stopped at the gorgeous Monument Valley operated by the Navajo tribespeople. This park can only be explored by driving through a 14-mile unpaved dirt road around the natural monuments that are famously known as The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chai, Ear of the Wind. A few locations within the valley offered horseback rides deeper into the Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa, which my daughters enjoyed.
City of Page is located in the southern shores of Lake Powel. Situated in the outskirts of this city are some amazing geological sites that are unique to this area including the Horseshoe Bend of the Glen Canyon, Antelope Canyons with the naturally undulating curves (controlled and operated by the Navajo tribespeople), and the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, which is only accessible through the river on a boat. It is iron oxide that makes Antelope canyons look red.
Our next destination was Bryce Canyon National Park which dates back to 60 million years. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We spent an evening and the entire next day in the canyon watching the sun rising and setting through the millions of towering pillars called the ‘hoodoos’ crafted by nature over millions of years. Paiutes tribes explained the colourful hoodoos as “legendary people” who were turned to stone by Coyote.
Our final destination was Zion National Park that offered all kinds of mild, moderate and strenuous hiking trails that one can enjoy based on their comfort. We explored several moderate trails that provided enchanting views on the towering bright red coloured cliffs, forest trails, valleys, a hanging garden, and beautiful poolside. The places we visited are highly populated by Native American tribes. It was a wonderful experience interacting with the very friendly locals. Ethnic tribal groups control, manage and take care of several monuments in the Colorado plateau.
After a week-long tour to Colorado plateau, we rode back to Las Vegas and spent a beautiful evening in the ‘sin city’ before flying back home by midnight.
The writer is Professor and Director of the Graduate Program at University of Georgia.
(As told to Priya Sreekumar)