Utah Trip: Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend, AZ

On this day my only goal was to get to my hotel in Monument Valley for sunset, so I actually had a pretty chill morning. Gotta take advantage of that hotel waffle maker when you can, you know?

Luckily the drive to Monument Valley put me back through the east end of Zion National Park. You may remember I drove that section in the dark on the way in, so it was nice to be able to see it in the daylight on my way out!

Utah Trip Zion National Park

So here’s a fun fact I discovered the night before while checking my Monument Valley hotel confirmation — did you know that Arizona doesn’t participate in Daylight Savings? And what do you know, Daylight Savings had just happened THAT WEEKEND. Let me tell you, I was all sorts of confused for a while. I knew I’d be driving through Arizona that day (and back to it the next…keep reading for that story) and was pretty confused about how that would impact my timing.

Now normally I’m a great planner, so I’m not totally sure what happened with this part of the trip. The only thing I can think of is that the hotel in Monument Valley had a 2-night minimum stay, which must have been why I didn’t stay in Page, AZ this night. You see, Page is two hours away from Monument Valley, which is fine except I was planning on catching sunrise at Horseshoe Bend the following morning…back in Page. Let me tell you, it wasn’t super fun driving those two hours to my hotel after hitting Page, knowing I’d be backtracking that the next morning. And then heading back to Monument Valley again. This is definitely one instance where I would’ve done things differently, so take note!

That being said, my hotel in Monument Valley was absolutely worth the drive. The View Hotel is the only hotel in Monument Valley, on Navajo Nation tribal land. It was built with great respect for the landscape, painted a similar color to the surrounding rocks. Plus, every room has a view of Monument Valley.

Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel

I mean, LOOK at that! That was the view from my room! I did in fact arrive in time for sunset, which was positively stunning.

Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel

Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel

The hotel faces east, so the sun sets over the parking lot behind, casting golden shadows on the rocks. After the sun was down I made my way to the hotel restaurant for dinner, which also faces the valley. I was struck by how the last remnants of daylight cast a pink hue over everything.

Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel

Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel
Utah Trip Monument Valley The View Hotel
Yeah so that inconvenience earlier? Worth it.

That being said, I was still very confused about what time I needed to wake up and leave in order to catch sunrise back in Arizona. Which may sound stupid to you, but I conferred with several people and we were all pretty perplexed. In the end it worked out in my favor — I could wake up an hour later than I originally thought!

The drive back to Page was a little nerve-wracking. There’s a good hour and a half of driving between Monument Valley and Page where there are just absolutely no services whatsoever. If I hit a deer or got a flat tire it would’ve been a disaster…because there was also no cell service! Luckily the ride went smooth as could be, and I arrived at Horseshoe Bend exactly when I had planned.

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Light was just beginning to break across the desert, and the moon was still high in the sky. The walk from the parking area to the canyon itself is so unassuming. You can’t even really see it until you’re right at the edge.

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

And then BAM! This stunner looms before you. I realize it’s incredibly hard to tell scale here, but it is just massive. The drop from the edge to the river below is 1,000 ft. For some perspective, look at the base of the center of the canyon — you’ll see tiny lines and a little white square. Those lines are roads for service vehicles and that white square is a building!

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Horseshoe Bend has become a pretty popular spot these days, so I was there with probably 15 or so people (until the tour busses arrived…) The sun was rising to our backs, hitting the cliffs in the distance first. We all waited, patiently snapping away, as the glow slowly crept closer. (That guy in the green hoodie nearly gave me a heart attack, look at how his tripod is perched! That’s a 1,000 ft drop my dude.)

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

It was around this time two tour busses unloaded and interrupted the calm. I’m glad I got there so early and had the opportunity to enjoy that peaceful sunrise for a bit. I’m also pretty proud of myself — I don’t have a great track record of waking up for sunrise, and not only did I wake up, I drove 2 hours to get there!

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

(I’m at my tallest and therefore most powerful just after sunrise, so I should really do this more often.)

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

Utah Trip Horseshoe Bend Arizona

While this day isn’t over, I’m going to end the post here. Coming up next I have approximately 4 million pictures of my tours of Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, which happened later this same day, and they deserve their own post.

Coming Up:
Antelope Canyon

Previously:
Park City, and the Most Beautiful Wedding
The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
A Day in Zion National Park

Utah Trip: A Day in Zion National Park

I had to go back to my calendar and check how many days I spent in Zion National Park, because I can’t believe I managed to pack so much into only one day there.

During the low season visitors are able to drive their cars through the main part of Zion, however I was visiting in the very early weeks of their regular season which meant park shuttles were the only means of transportation through the main road. Because of this, I decided to start my morning out with the one hike on my list that I’d be able to drive to, the Canyon Overlook trail.

Utah Trip Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail

It’s indisputable that the best views in Zion National Park are on the world-famous Angel’s Landing trail. However at 3+ hours and with a few somewhat treacherous sections, I wasn’t comfortable doing that one on my own. A great backup option is the Canyon Overlook trail. It’s just one mile roundtrip and still provides a breathtaking view at the end.

Utah Trip Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail

Utah Trip Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail

That little bridge was the scariest part! I never trust that those things will hold me. Hiking for me is a constant battle between my fear of heights, and my strong desire to see things from higher vantage points. The struggle is real.

Utah Trip Zion National Park Canyon Overlook Trail

After the Canyon Overlook hike, I drove back into town for a bit of lunch, making a couple photo stops along the way. I wanted to avoid the hottest time of day before hopping onto the shuttle for a bit more exploration (unfortunately the light for photographs ended up being harsh well into the afternoon, whatcha gonna do.) It might have been blizzarding at home, but it was in the 80s in Zion, which I welcomed greatly.

Here’s my rental car for scale — no pictures could have prepared me for how astounding Zion truly is in person. Also, I love that my rental car had Pennsylvania plates. I come all the way out west, but had a part of the east coast with me the whole time.

Utah Trip Zion National Park

The shuttle system in Zion is really quite convenient, although I imagine it gets crowded in the summer season. Not only is there a park shuttle that makes stops at every hiking opportunity, but there’s a town shuttle in Springdale that makes several stops in town before dropping you off at the park entrance.

Utah Trip Zion National Park Cactus

My first order of business was to take the shuttle all the way to the last stop. This way I could enjoy the scenery along the way, and make some decisions about where I wanted to stop on the trip back. This didn’t work out completely as planned…I’m embarrassed to admit that the combination of the earlier hike, lunch, and the warm sun lulled me to sleep. I woke up at the last stop having missed much of the 45 minute trip there! No matter though, a little nap was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself for the rest of the afternoon.

The last shuttle stop is at the Temple of Sinwava, which includes a flat riverside trail that eventually leads to the famous Narrows trail. The Narrows was closed when I was there due to snow melt, not that I had planned on doing it this trip!

Utah Trip Zion National Park Temple of Sinawava

Utah Trip Zion National Park Temple of Sinawava

Utah Trip Zion National Park Temple of Sinawava

Utah Trip Zion National Park Temple of Sinawava

After this little hike, I hopped back on the shuttle and decided to hike the Emerald Pools trails at The Grotto stop. If memory serves, the lower trail was closed (they were rebuilding the path after a ) but that was fine by me, as I wanted to get a bit higher up. Just like the last trail, this one was quite heavily trafficked. Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating running into so many people, but honestly I don’t mind it when I’m alone. It makes me feel a bit safer knowing there’s lots of people around, although it does put a damper on enjoying nature when a group of college students walk by blasting rap out of a portable speaker…

Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools
Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Still, I really enjoyed this one! Not hard at all (I saw many children along the way) and great views from the top! Well, from the middle. I had only planned on hiking to the middle falls, which is exactly what I did. I know I didn’t do any particularly crazy hikes this day, but between those and driving 6+ hours the day before, I was feeling pretty beat.

I really hope I can make it back to Zion National Park again someday. It is absolutely stunning, and I know I only scratched the surface! Next time, Angel’s Landing for sure.

Utah Trip Zion National Park Emerald Pools

Next Up:
Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon

Previously:
Park City, and the Most Beautiful Wedding
The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

Utah Trip: The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

When I was planning the road trip portion of this Utah trip, I almost took Bryce Canyon off the itinerary because I was worried it might be too much driving for one day. (Spoiler alert: it was, but it was totally worth it and I wouldn’t change a thing.)

After picking up my rental car in Salt Lake City, it was pretty much a straight shot down to Bryce Canyon. Well, aside from the obviously mandatory first stop at In-N-Out.

Utah Trip

I’m not exactly sure where the above picture is, but it was on the way to Bryce Canyon and my first glimpse of red rocks of the trip!

I arrived at Bryce Canyon fairly late in the day, but I had read that it’s pretty easy to see all the sights in a short amount of time (so long as you’re not planning on doing any hikes!)

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Despite the warm day, the winter snowpack was still clinging to the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. What’s a hoodoo you ask? They’re those chunky spires of rock formation, and they make up a lot of the amazing geology in Bryce Canyon.

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park is a mostly out-and-back road, with scenic overlooks along the way. I drove all the way to the end first, to Rainbow and Yovimpa Points, so I could work my way back. I was there in the low season so parking was a breeze, but I imagine it could get tricky in the summer.

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

The colors at Bryce Canyon are absolutely stunning. Depending on the way the light hits the rocks they can be bright orange, or even pink. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hoodoos as far as the eye can see!

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon
Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

Utah Trip Bryce Canyon

I made it to Sunset Point as the sun starting dipping in the sky, although I couldn’t stay for the full sunset. I was still two hours away from that night’s hotel, just outside Zion National Park, and had to get moving. (I hate driving in the dark in an unfamiliar place.)

The sun started setting while I was driving. I was making good time and didn’t want to stop, but just couldn’t help myself. This had to be one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. These pictures don’t do it justice.

Utah Trip Sunset

Utah Trip Sunset

And why not share a little shot of my rental car! I was given a Nissan Versa this time. Actually, they tried to upgrade me to a Hyundai Elantra, but I prefer and am more used to driving a small car like this. It was my first time driving a car with cruise control, which was a godsend out on those no-curves-just-straight-for-an-hour Utah and Arizona roads.

Utah Trip Sunset

After I almost hit a deer a restaurant appeared out of nowhere, and I took it as a sign to stop. After fueling up (on some pretty disappointing food tbh), the waitress warned me about how there were a ton more deer out that night and I should take care. GREAT. Not that I’m not used to coming across deer in NJ, but it’s an entirely different experience as you’re winding your way through pitch dark roads. And she wasn’t wrong — I must have seen 30 more deer as I wound my way through the eastern branch of Zion to get to my hotel. Let’s just say I drove pretty damn slow for the final part of my drive.

I did finally make it to my hotel around 10. It was a very weird experience driving through Zion at night, because I could tell there were epic views on either side of me, but because of the darkness I couldn’t see any of it. I couldn’t wait to get up the next morning and have a chance to see it all!

Next Up:
Zion National Park

Previously:
Park City, and the Most Beautiful Wedding

Utah Trip: Park City, and the Most Beautiful Wedding

When my good friend told me she was getting married in Park City and asked me to be her maid of honor, I couldn’t have been more excited. I’d been wanting to get out to Utah for a while now (plus I had family friends who moved to Park City a few years ago) so I decided to just go all-in and turn this trip into my first road trip of the year.

Utah Trip Park City

Neither me or the other bridesmaid are big skiers, so we decided not to get lift passes. I know I know, I can hear you shouting through the computer screen “you went to one of the greatest ski destinations in the country and you DIDN’T SKI??” I get it. I don’t dislike skiing, I’m just more of a bunny hill kinda girl, and getting a lift pass and renting all the gear for the one or two days I’d be able to use them just wasn’t worth it.

However! That’s the amazing thing about Park City — while skiing is obviously the main attraction, there’s still so much to do. On the first day, the other bridesmaid and I took the free shuttle down to Park City’s main street to explore the town. We both arrived very late the night before, plus we were still adjusting to the altitude, so it was just the right pace for both of us.

After breakfast at The Bridge (located directly next to the Town Lift ski lift), we stumbled upon Little Donuts and couldn’t resist trying a mini doughnut each. The rest of the morning was spent browsing Park City’s shops, and inadvertently walking pretty far to a pharmacy to pick up some things I forgot to pack. The weather was absolutely incredible, at a very comfortable 60 degrees despite being surrounded by snow-covered mountains.

Utah Trip Park City

The following day the bride, the other bridesmaid and I were planning on snowshoeing, but since the weather was so warm the snow was a little too soft for it, so we went on a couple of hikes instead.

We stopped first at the trails at Round Valley, which are groomed for cross-country skiing and walking.

Utah Trip Park City Round Valley

Utah Trip Park City Round Valley
Utah Trip Park City Round Valley

After we were done at Round Valley we stopped at Silver King Coffee for some drive-thru beverages, before walking part of the public path that runs alongside Park Ave. These pictures don’t really do the scenery justice — it was incredible to be surrounded by mountains in every direction.

Utah Trip Park City

Utah Trip Park City

After this we decided to do the Alpine Coaster at Park City Mountain, which was so much fun! We scream-laughed the whole way down.

Now we’ve arrived at wedding day! The bride arranged to have everyone’s hair and makeup done professionally, which was such a wonderful experience. I felt so glamorous. I even got a chance to sneak in some wedding photography practice while the photographer was with the groomsmen.

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

As we’d be taking the majority of the group shots in the snow, we all had to have a pair of snow boots for the occasion (these are the bride’s). Most comfortable wedding footwear ever!

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Now I haven’t been to a ton of them, but this was hands down the most incredible wedding. The venue was on top of the ski mountain, which meant we all took the gondola up the mountain, followed by a snow cat drawn-sleigh to reach it. The ceremony took place outdoors on a deck, just as the sun disappeared and blue hour set in.

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding
Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

As we came down the mountain after the reception, Park City was lit up before us. Such a beautiful setting, for such a wonderful couple. I don’t think they could have asked for a more perfect day!

Utah Trip Park City Canyons Wedding

The day after the wedding was for relaxing, and I was able to meet up and stay the night with my family friends. Then it was time for the second part of my trip to begin. To take full advantage of being out west I planned a 6-day road trip through southern Utah and northern Arizona — that’ll be coming up in the next post!

Next Up:
Bryce Canyon