After a truly devastating year of loss and isolation, I was dying to go on a vacation and get away from it all. However, with a new job and little PTO under my belt, I was stuck taking time off during the most dreadful holiday weekend of the summer: Fourth of July. I knew the Utah, Wyoming and California National Parks were going to be oozing with humanity, and fighting for parking spots and waiting in long hiking lines sounded like my worst kind of vacation.
A quick google search soon had me scoping out North Cascades National Park in Washington state — one of America’s least visited National Parks with “only” 120,000 visitors per year (for comparison, Yellowstone gets 650,000 annual visitors). Turquoise lakes, majestic mountains, lush forests AND no tourists? This made North Cascades an easy sell to my husband and two close friends. Within minutes, we had plane tickets booked for a summer adventure that was (crossing fingers) relatively empty.read more
My favorite vacation in America is a place I have been trying to escape from my entire life, yet found a whole new appreciation for upon my return back to the United States.
It’s a state with not one, but five national parks. It hosted the winter Olympics and is known to have “the best snow on Earth.” It’s home to what some would call an over-zealous and somewhat strange religion.
Yes, my favorite U.S. vacation so far is not San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, or even Boston:
Despite living in Utah for over 20 years, I never went to Zion, Bryce or even Moab (all national parks, by the way). It was truly embarrassing, and I knew I couldn’t properly call myself a true Utahn without a visit to these national landmarks. Despite the sour taste Utah left in my mouth from my younger years, I decided to treat the journey like a trip overseas: A true adventure.
The results? Well, I thought the grand canyon would eternally top my charts for U.S. travel, but then I went to…
Zion, Utah: A Truly Holy Place
You know how some places just feel… holy? I’m not a very religious person, but there are moments in life when I see something so magnificent, so much greater than anything my whole life will ever amount to, something so epic it will stand the test of time and leave its mark on humanity–that I lose myself in what I could best call a ‘spiritual experience.’
Looking up to the grand ceiling of Notre Dame. Watching an orange sunset melt into the ocean on a sandy beach. The great Buddha Daibutsu statue in Nara, Japan towering over me.
And then, there’s Zion:
If you pinpoint Zion from Google Maps alone, it looks like a wasteland. More desert than the eye can see and it’s in the absolute middle of nowhere.
Yet when you drive through the gates of Zion, it’s almost like you’re transported into Narnia. Suddenly rocks on the side of the road rise into cliffs, the drab beige of the desert melts into crimson red paint on the cliff side, and trees–no, forests–sprout out from nowhere.
Zion is literally an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Due to the shape and form of the cliffs and rocks in Zion, what little rainfall that is trapped here turns into flowing streams, growing trees and budding flowers that lead to an entire ecosystem of wildlife.
It’s like heaven.
The Hike Where People Fall to Their Death: Angel’s Landing
Yeah, you can see why I wasn’t thrilled when my boyfriend cited Angel’s Landing for our hike of the day. It’s not only famous for having a loose hanging chain as your sole mechanism of safety up the mountain–but more than five helpless hikers have fallen to their death here.
I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but the photos were enough to have my heart racing.
Yes, those are chains that you hang onto as you hang from the sheer face of a cliff.
One wrong step? Oh, it’s just a straight drop 10,000 feet or so down.
Come on Mary, I gave myself a pep talk. You’re a true traveler now. Prove yourself. Get up there, grab that chain and hoist yourself up to the top. Giving up is for losers.
Yet I made a gave mistake: I looked over the ledge. I saw where one wrong step could lead, and I froze.
I crouched to the ground, hugged the chain for life and looked up to my boyfriend, terror in my eyes.
My boyfriend nodded and understood. I told him to move ahead and I would wait for him below at “losers corner” (and yes, my boyfriend is a manly man and went all the way to the top. He said he had to jump over a ravine to do so, so I’m REALLY glad I wimped out!).
Although I didn’t scale to the very top of Angel’s Landing, I still made it up to the 10,000 foot mark. Loser’s corner wasn’t the best view of the entire canyon–but I gotta say, it wasn’t bad.
I was only in Zion for three days and I barely scratched the surface of what this park has to offer. It’s a treasure trove of mystery, adventure, exploration and beauty.
As one Zion expert remarked to us:
“I could spend my entire life here and still never see it all.”
The HooDoos of Bryce Canyon
Another great reason to see Utah is the insane geological formations, like these HooDoos:
Bryce Canyon is a small national park that can easily be done in a day trip. It’s a zig zag maze of trails full of these strange HooDoo formations that glow red, orange and yellow in the changing light of the sun.
I loved this hike because it was deathly silent and peaceful. As we hiked around these hoodoos and the forests that they encircle, we heard nothing but the flap of birds spreading their wings overhead. Every now and then a horse tour passed us by, but the tour group was so entranced by their surroundings only the neigh of the horses could be heard as they echoed across the canyon.
There is nowhere else in the world where you can see colors or rock formations like this.
These parks are uniquely Utah–and strangely enough, they make me proud to be a part of this great State.
Have you been to Utah? Do you have a favorite America vacation!?