Road tripping is my absolute favourite way to travel. When you take a tour, you are stuck following around a tour guide. Similarly, when you take a train or a bus, you can’t choose when you stop and every moment is planned. Road trips allow freedom and independence. Road trips in North America are ESPECIALLY fantastic, because language barriers aren’t an issue and you generally know what to expect. Someday, I plan to write all about the 2 weeks road trip Dave and I took right before we left for Guiyang, but today, I’m going to write about the 4 days we spent travelling the South-western United States!
We began our trip in Nevada, a couple of days after Jeff and Liz’s wedding. We rented a car from Budget, which we actually regret. We got on the road 2 hours late because they didn’t have a car ready for us when we arrived (we pre-booked, in case you’re wondering). After we started to make a bit of a stink, they actually called a car over from the airport location so that we could go on our way. The real kicker is that they charged us EXTRA when we returned the car back at the airport location because it wasn’t the original place where we booked it…
I’d recommend Fox Renta Car instead, which is who my brother and sister in law rent from when they’re down in the Nevada area. I wish I’d known about them ahead of time. They seem to be a lot more customer service oriented. Either way… we DID get on the road eventually…
Zion National Park
Although it took a while to get going, we arrived at Zion National Park with enough time to enjoy some views.
Just outside of the park, there is a small town called Springdale. Utah does National Parks right…instead of driving into the park and trying to find parking (which is limited), you can take a shuttle directly from Springdale! We didn’t actually realize this, so we drove into the park ourselves, but we definitely made use of the free shuttle buses to get around within the park.
While on the shuttle, we learned about the park and saw some gorgeous sights. We were especially happy to have the shuttle service because we only had about 2 hours to see the park, which is not nearly enough time to really appreciate the magnificent landscapes of Zion Canyon. By using the shuttle service, we were able to hop on and off to see specific areas of the park.
My favourite tours are ones where I learn things about the surrounding area. Zion did this very well. While the bus is driving around the park, there is a recording that teaches you about the geological history of the area. We learned that Utah gets monsoons, that flash floods are responsible for the beautiful scenery. We also learned that different types of rock account for the various colours we saw within the park.
We eventually wound up at the base of the canyon, where we could see the river that formed this beautiful area. Although it doesn’t look like much, the Virgin River is responsible for wearing down the rocks that surrounded us.
On our drive out, the sun finally began to shine, and that’s when I was able to capture the true beauty of Zion National Park.
Zion had one final gem to show us before we made our way to Cedar City for the night. The Checkerboard Mesa was quite a spectacular view, so we got out and took some final pictures of the area before moving on.
The following day, we continued onto Bryce Canyon; our second stop in Utah. Bryce is a lot like Zion, in that it has gorgeous rock formations and beautiful scenery. Somehow, though, I think it manages to be even MORE beautiful! The colours at Bryce Canyon are stunning and I couldn’t possibly take enough pictures.
We decided to hike into the canyon because we had more time than we had at Zion. I ended up with some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever taken.
It seemed like the further we went into the Canyon, the more colourful it became. The hoodoos (odd rock formations) really blew us away! When I started doing research on the canyon for this blog post, I learned that Bryce Canyon actually has the largest collection of Hoodoos in the entire world!
Unfortunately, we did eventually have to turn around. Although we’d planned a 5 mile hike, we only brought enough water for a 2 mile hike. We made it to the base of the canyon and then had to turn around. Still the views were gorgeous on the way back up (which is lucky because I needed something to distract me from how thirsty I was!!)!!
The following morning, we left Panguitch for Arizona. On the way, we stopped at The Rock Stop, a little store we’d discovered on our way to Bryce Canyon. The owner is one of the only people in Southern Utah to sell coffee, so if you’re down that way, be sure to check him out!!! He makes a mean iced latte, and sells all sorts of rocks and fossils. We picked up gifts for our nephews, and my brother while we were there, and had a few great chats with the owner.
The other cool little stop we made was a preview to the Hoover Dam. Glen Canyon Dam is much smaller, but beautiful. We took some time to check it out and stretch our legs during this rather long part of our road trip.
Finally, after about 6 hours of driving, we made it to the mother of all Canyons: The Grand Canyon.
The thing that we found most striking about the Grand Canyon is how big it is. It isn’t as colourful as Zion and it doesn’t have Bryce’s Hoodoos, but it’s so massive…it’s truly spectacular to see.
To give you an idea of scale, here are some comparisons:
Zion Canyon: 15 miles long – 1/2 mile deep
Bryce Canyon: 12 miles long – 1/2 mile deep (in it’s largest area)
Grand Canyon: 277 miles long – 1 mile (and a bit) deep
That’s a lot of canyon!!! It really never seemed to end!
Although there are several places you can see the Canyon (some viewpoints are only a few hours away from Vegas), we chose to see the South Rim near Flagstaff, Arizona. The South Rim is known for spectacular views. We were on the eastern part of the South Rim, which is important to note. The area near Las Vegas is also the South Rim, but it’s hours from where we were.
Unfortunately, we were both pretty tuckered out at this point (and overheating), so we didn’t do any hiking, but we’d love to go back some day and see more of The Grand Canyon. With 277 miles to explore, I don’t think I could see it all in a lifetime!!!
The Hoover Dam
Our final stop of the road trip was to see one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in American history: The Hoover Dam. The dam lays on the boarder between Arizona and Nevada and is now nearly 100 years old. It was built during the Great Depression as a way to control water flow into the area, with an added bonus of providing electricity to the surrounding area. This dam made it possible for people to make use of an otherwise useless portion of land, and it was quite the thing to see!
While we were there, the temperature was hovering around 47 degrees Celsius, so we took cover in the visitor center, where we learned about the dam’s history and functions.
There were plenty of displays set up and you could learn something no matter what happens to interest you . Dave was fascinated with the engineering and wanted to learn more about how the dam works, but I focused on the history of the dam and what it meant for the country. (Read the captions on the following pictures for more info)
Eventually, it was time to drop off our rental car and head to McCarran airport for our 8pm flight. We arrived in Winnipeg sunburned and pretty sore from our travels, but it was a worthwhile experience, to say the least!
***A Note to My Fellow Nomads***
If you’re thinking of taking a trip like ours, I had Dave make a map of our journey. We spent 2 full days on the road plus 2 half days. If it had been possible, I would have added an extra 2 days so we could have hiked in Zion and the Grand Canyon as well. I’d also have brought a hat on our hike in Bryce as well as additional water. Our drive looked like this:
Day 1: Vegas to Zion – Roughly 2.5 hours. Stayed in Cedar City – 1.5 hours from Zion. (You can stay closer to Zion, but prices drop significantly if you drive a bit towards Bryce)
Day 2: Cedar City to Bryce – 1.5 hours. We stayed in Penguitch (about a half hour away)
Day 3: Penguitch to The South Rim of the Grand Canyon – 5 hours. We then drove to Flagstaff for the night – 1.5 hours)
Day 4: Flagstaff to Vegas (with a pit stop at the Hoover Dam). Flagstaff to Dam – 3.5 hours. Dam to Vegas – Less than an hour
Total Driving: Around 16 hours in 4 days. Doable, with PLENTY to see along the way!
I’ll be back soon with stories about our stay in Canada!