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National Parks of Southern Utah

Author: Deena L.
Date of Trip: October 2006

This trip was taken by a couple in their seventies. It’s purpose was to spend as much time in the parks as possible: attending ranger programs, driving park roads, stopping at scenic overlooks, studying displays and viewing movies in the visitor centers, walking/hiking for a couple of hours each day on park trails. We worked out an evenly paced route so that distances between each night’s stay could be travelled in two to three hours. We chose hotels for proximity to the parks and for points in Choice Hotels or Best Western rewards programs. All breakfasts except one were included with motel stay. Lunches were picnic foods purchased in groceries along the route. For dinner each evening we asked for local recommendations.

On day one, we flew nonstop from Providence, R.I. to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines. We immediately drove to Springdale, Utah — a distance of 167 miles/ about a three hour drive. We were fortunate to have an excellent driver/guide on our tram ride into the park. We exited the tram at the last stop, Temple of Sinawava and walked the Riverside paved path where we saw a number of mule deer grazing including two infrequently seen males (a two pointer and a three pointer). We saw granaries in high rocks along the path and water dripping everywhere along the rock faces. We stayed at the Quality Inn in Springdale. We ate at the Spotted Dog Cafe, a lovely restaurant with white tablecloths, large windows, attentive waiters and tasty Continental food.

On day two, we drove along Route 9 through the tunnel and out the Zion East entrance to Bryce National Park — a distance of 85 miles. We arrived in time for the 11:30 ranger talk at Sunset Point. This is a beautiful spot with a trail that descends into the canyon. We hiked this trail partway. We also hiked the Bristlecone Loop Trail where we saw an ancient Bristlecone Pine, younger pines, spruces, firs and patches of snow in shady spots. At Inspiration Point, we took the path to the high Inspiration overlook to marvel at the expansive amphitheater below.

In the evening we attended a program by one of the “dark rangers”. He gave a wonderful powerpoint presentation on the problems caused by light pollution. His presentation was followed by guided telescopic viewing of the very clear, dark starry sky. We stayed at Bryce View Lodge. We had the buffet dinner at Ruby’s Restaurant that evening and breakfast at Ruby’s fast food the next morning.

On day three, we headed from Bryce National Park to Torrey 114 miles/three hours. We stopped on the way out of Bryce to hike the short but beautiful and tourist free Mossy Cave Trail. We proceeded to the Cannonville visitor center of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Here we viewed a film by a warming fire, got a map, and some advice. We drove the excitingly scenic Route 12 as far as Torrey, stopping to study the display on biological soil crusts at the Escalante visitor center of GSENM and at a few of the overlooks along the way.

Our next stop was at Capitol Reef National Park where we attended an informative ranger geology talk. We travelled the Scenic Drive, stopping at the Gifford Farm House and at spots that captured our fancy for photography and rock climbing/scampering. We stayed at the Comfort Inn and had a very enjoyable meal at Cafe Diablo. By ordering one appetizer, one entree, and one dessert for the two of us, we got to taste a variety of wonderfully prepared foods without stressing our digestive systems.

Day four was from Torrey to Green River 114 miles/ two and a half hours. We drove through Capitol Reef along route 24, stopping at the schoolhouse and to walk along the petroglyph walkway. We hiked the Hickman Bridge trail, a one mile trail that leads right up to a natural bridge. There is a guide available at the trailhead. We continued to Green River where we visited the John Wesley Powell River History Museum. This is an excellent place to learn about Powell, his crew, their boats, and their explorations and discoveries on the Green and Colorado Rivers. There are movies, boat replicas, artwork, and numerous graphics to tell Powell’s story. We stayed at the Comfort Inn and ate at Tamarisk across the street. For our side dish, we chose one visit to the salad bar and that was a wise choice.

Day five, we ventured from Green River to Arches National Park 50 miles/one hour We drove to Arches National Park. This is the only day that it rained — actually poured — an amazing site in the desert. We walked the Windows trail and hiked to Delicate Arch just before it was closed due to the flooding effects of heavy rain. We stayed at the Moab Sleep Inn where the washer and dryer came in handy for our wet and muddy clothes. We ate at Eddy Mc Stiff’s.

Day six we drove from Moab to Richfield with Canyonland’s 213 miles/four hours There was a low fog across Canyonland’s National Park when we arrived. First we hiked to Mesa Arch, then attended the ranger talk at the Grand View Point Overlook. As we stood listening to the ranger the fog began to lift uncovering the “Islands in the Sky”. It was a breathtaking scene. We stayed at the Richfield Comfort Inn and ate at the Little Wonder Cafe. The Little Wonder Cafe is a friendly, old established restaurant in the center of town that serves tasty homestyle food. It’s where the local people eat.

Day seven, Richfield to St. George 164 miles/two and a half hours. In St. George, we visited the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. This is a world class site for the discovery and display of Jurassic fossils. Besides an introductory movie and a printed guide to help you understand what you are viewing, there are very knowledgeable and patient volunteers to answer all questions. We walked through the historic downtown of St. George where we took guided tours of Brigham Young’s winter home and the Tabernacle. There are may wonderful sculptures at the street corners along Main St. In the evening, we watched the film about Joseph Smith in the visitor center at the Temple. We stayed at the Best Western Travel Inn which is a short walk from the historic district and ate at Denny’s.

Day eight we went from St. George to Mc Carren Airport Las Vegas 127mi./two hours. We spent a little time at the Bellagio Botanical Gardens before going back to the airport for our nonstop, on time Southwest flight home.

The motels that we stayed in were all clean, comfortable, quiet, and right on our route. Our only surprise was that Utah school’s were on vacation during part of our trip making it a very good thing that we had advance reservations. No coupons were honored during this time.

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