One can just not imagine what nature has created in southern Utah without experiencing it firsthand.
We've all seen the pictures of the parklands of Bryce and Zion, but to be there -- some 2,200 miles from Philadelphia -- and gaze upon these natural wonders is quite another experience. The "tour" of these two -- Zion, renamed in 1918 from its original handle of Mukuntuweap National Monument, to the Hebrew word for Israel as homeland -- can be accessed from various directions, but either St. George or Moab, Utah, are two of the most common starting points.
Beginning in the northeast at Moab, the National Parks are Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion in a clockwise path. There are abundant campgrounds all along the way from primitive to deluxe resorts.
Here are a few tips for visiting this area:
· Get to the parks early or late in the day. The heat is less intense, and photos turn out better due to the sun creating shadows that help define and give depth to the scenery.
· Bring plenty of water. The parks really require getting out of your vehicle (in fact, no personal vehicles are allowed in Zion) and doing a little exploring around to see the sites, and you'll want to have plenty to drink.
· Wear appropriate clothing. Hiking boots or sturdy tennis shoes are a must. Many of the paths are uneven or rocky, and can twist unsupported ankles in a moment. The sun tends to be intense as the elevation is often more than 6,000 feet, so a hat, sunscreen and a long-sleeved shirt are all good items to have with you.
· Bring the binoculars. The wildlife is abundant just about everywhere. You'll want to catch a glimpse of the rock-climbers, too.
· Allow at least one day for each park you visit. They are vast in size, and offer so much to look at and explore that you really can't do more than one in a day and see very much. Also, the roads and travel distance dictate that this be a journey, not a dash from one "exhibit" to the next.
· Make some reservations ahead. These parks are popular, so to get your choice of resorts, you should really book ahead. It depends upon your own level of comfort with "winging it."
Also, if you plan on passing through Mount Carmel Junction between Zion and Bryce, be sure to check the requirements for your vehicle. There is a fee for "escort" service through a long tunnel for large vehicles. Our "Class B" didn't require the service, but many other vehicles were lined up waiting to be taken through the tunnel.
If you have additional time beyond the "Big Five" National Parks, there are many other fascinating local places to visit.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is worth the trip just to see the old lodge hanging on the edge of the canyon. This side of the gorge is less crowded than the more famous south rim, yet equally spectacular.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be seen going from Capitol Reef to Bryce on Highway 12.
The Hogsback traverse will never be forgotten. It is a narrow two-lane road (with a speed limit of 5 miles-per-hour) that is an engineering marvel.
No guardrails and about 1,000 feet down on both sides makes a harrowing, but beautiful, half-mile trip.
Canyon de Chelley (pronounced "shay") in northeastern Arizona remains an unusual National Monument in that Native Americans still live in the park and conduct many of the tours there.
From the cliff dwellings of the President's Palace to the Jeep rides through the shallow rivers, this is a great way to spend a day or more.