State Seventeen: Utah

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

It seemed somehow appropriate that our first stop having left Las Vegas, the City of Sin no less, was a national park named for a holy city – Zion. Since we were headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon our drive took us briefly into Utah in between Nevada and Arizona. We used that brief time oh-so-wisely with a stop in this superb park

Zion, being somewhere between the Bryce and Grand Canyons, could be forgotten, but it certainly shouldn’t be. The instant you arrive you’re taken aback by the red hues in the rock, so vivid set against an often clear blue sky. We needed to make progress so we took a lesiurely drive through the park along the casually-named Zion Park Boulevard. If you’re short of time it’s a great way to get a flavour for the park, if you’re not short of time you could spend days in Zion hiking or mountain biking.

Our first taste of Utah led us to believe we had a treat in store when we were due to head back. And boy were we right. Before we planned this leg of our roadtrip we knew little of Utah. It was merely a barren place where the Mormons lived and you couldn’t get booze. Oh and the Winter Olympics was held there once. It didn’t take us long to realise there was a lot more to it than that.

Monument Valley at sunrise
Monument Valley at sunrise

Our first stop in Utah was Monument Valley, which is actually a Navajo tribal park. The hotel we were headed for was called The View gave us an inkling that we might be in for a treat, but just as with the Grand Canyon, nothing can really prepare you for the vista until you clap eyes on it yourself. Monument Valley has been featured in so many films, you’ve probably seen it four or five times without even realising it. In fact, our hotel for the night was actually in one of Daniel Craig’s Bond films. The massive rock formations that climb out of the valley, known as “buttes”, make for some epic scenery and we challenge you not to stare open-mouthed at them for at least three minutes when you arrive.

The View hotel is nice enough, but frankly no one is there for the beds or the food (although the Navajo meal we had was delicious – the frybread especially). Be sure to set your alarm nice and early, sunrise is not to be missed.

Our next stop after the Navajo Nation was Salt Lake City, a good seven hours away. A little more in fact when you add a stop in Moab and at Arches National Park along the way. What’s an eight hour drive between friends anyway? We chose Moab, the closest town to Arches, for our breakfast stop that day and were glad we did. We had waffles and massive cups of coffee in the Love Muffin Cafe before we made a beeline for the nearby park.

Arches National Park
Arches National Park

Arches is probably another of those places you’ve seen in plenty of films, Indiana Jones and Thelma and Louise to name a couple, and its another in a long line of picture-perfect locations. We stopped by Balanced Rock, The Windows and Delicate Arch. Get there early if you want to avoid the coach-loads of tourists – there’s plenty of them.

Full steam ahead north and four hours later we were in Utah’s state capital, Salt Lake City. What little we knew of SLC centred around the Mormons, unsurprisingly, and in truth they are a big feature of this small-ish city. The massive temple, with the space-age looking tabernacle behind it, dominates the city and even if you do object to some of the slightly odd traditions of this religion its worth a few minutes of your time.

Our bed for the night was at Salt Lake’s excellent Kimpton, so naturally we made sure to make use of the free wine and cheese hour at 5pm. After quaffing several glasses of tasty vino we headed to the Beerhive Pub in downtown SLC. We were there on a Sunday so a lot of food and booze places were closed, but the Beerhive gave us both in abundance. We had big old burgers accompanied by an excellent and vast selection of craft beers, bottled and on tap. If you like beer it’s hard to imagine there’s a better selection anywhere else in the city.

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City
The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City was our last stop in Utah and it is kind of a funny place. The whole city is immaculately clean and tidy, and the downtown area was deathly quiet (perhaps because it was Sunday). It is an interesting stop and our hotel was superb, but we probably wouldn’t go out of our way to head back there, there’s so much to see in the rest of this massive state. Utah, all of four letters long, was a revelation for us. The scenery is up there with the very best America has to offer so if you’re a fan of the outdoors you cannot afford to miss it.

Rate the State:

Good for: Utah is a photographer’s wet dream, endless possibilities.

Bad for: Salt Lake City is a bit odd, and if you don’t like big drives maybe get your scenery elsewhere!

Overall: 9/10

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