We arrived into Salt Lake City around 1pm and decided to head over to our hotel and check in. We arrived on a particularly rainy day and there happened to be a large rain storm that was hovering directly over Salt Lake City, so it was hard to enjoy a view of the city nestled in amongst the Wasatch Mountain range.
In any case, at times it would clear up and we decided to venture out around town. We headed downtown to check things out and ended up at the Clark Planetarium. This is a science museum centered around a space theme. There is a parking garage under the museum and it's a good central spot to park downtown. The entire museum is free aside from the IMAX movies and planetarium. Since it was somewhat of a rainy day, it was perfect for spending a little bit of time here. We watched a show on black holes and then browsed the museum. I highly recommend this place, especially if you have kids. The whole time we kept mentioning how Noah (4 year old) would love it!
Once out of the Planetarium, we walked out and were literally right next to an outdoor mall. We didn't come all this way to shop, but we found a good place to eat called Happy Sumo (we love Sushi). It's a pretty cool vibe, definitely trendy. The mall is interesting because it has really cool views of the surrounding mountains.
Enough of the mall - we decided to stroll further downtown. We walked past the Energy Solutions Arena where the Utah Jazz play. It just happened to be the playoffs and everyone was selling tickets on the street. The arena is right next to the public transit. In Salt Lake they have a good bus system and train system. The train system is called UTA - Utah Transit Authority.
Heading up Temple Street we arrived at the Mormon Temple Square. The entire area is incredibly landscaped with fountains and flower beds. The Temple is immaculate and has an ornately decorated facade. It must be a popular wedding site because we saw two wedding parties taking pictures.
Next to the temple is the Church of Latter Day Saints Office building. They must own the town because the building is huge. We kept walking and ran into a small park commemorating Brigham Young. Nice little spot to explore and see. We proceeded to head back downtown to make sure we rested for a long drive to Moab the next day!
Oooohhhhhkay. Will this rain ever end? The monsoon continues over the entire western part of Utah, so we had one choice....On to Moab and the infamous Arches National Park!
The trip to Moab is about 3 1/2 hours from Salt Lake City but well worth the trip. The road there is a very scenic drive through the rocky countryside. You can get there via the interstate, but the best route from SLC is to take I-15 South to US-6 South. The road starts out driving through the Wasatch Mountain Pass and the wind farms near the top of the mountain.
Once you drop out of the mountain, you'll see lots of rocky terrain and then it opens up into a wide flat countryside with views of rocky plateaus and mountains in the distance. The last part of the drive is actually part of a scenic byway. You'll notice the road follows the railways and you'll get to see trains cruising next to you.
You can drive fast out in the country and you'll get to drive down some pretty cool canyons. (Very few places to stop however!)
At one point it felt like the movie Wolf Creek with no stops in sight. Creepy yet liberating at the same time. Time to drive and reflect.
Once you get off the 180 miles of Route 6, you will get to I-70, cross the Green River, and then get on 191 South. From there the drive gets really cool. The rocks change to a maroon and orange color and start getting larger. Mountains clustered with red rock boulders. You'll really enjoy the views coming into the valley just before Arches National Park.
When you come in the gate you'll already see how incredible and unique this place is. You drive up the mountain and see huge monoliths of red rock towering above you. The first main pull out is called Park Avenue - see pic below. Amazing.
We continued driving through the park to check it out and passed a ton of amazing views. It's hard to put in words how large the natural arches are throughout the park. Our favorite area was near the end of the park and called the "Devil's Garden." We drove up to the hiking trail and started walking. The sand is a reddish brown hue and cacti scattered throughout. It looks like an alien world.
Walking through the rock canyons you can hike some really cool trails. I especially liked the "trail for the ancients." It's tougher, but the views are incredible. Snow capped mountains are in the background of just about every view.
Arches National Park is an incredible experience, but there was more to see. We drove into the small town of Moab and had lunch. There are shops lining the main road and it has a small western town feel.
After we headed up to Dead Horse Point State Park where it gets the name from times when cowboys corralled the horses onto huge plateaus. Some fell off the edge..hence the name...The park drives you straight through Open Range livestock fields. You literally had to watch out for cows on the road. When you get to the park it takes you up to the top of a plateau with spectacular views. Reminded me of the Grand Canyon, with less allure and spectacle.
That ended our day in Moab...we drove back to the hotel to soak in the hot tub and get ready for another ROAD TRIP!
The next day we decided to take another road trip south. We hopped on I-15 South out of Salt Lake City as the rain storm began its 3rd day of havoc on Salt Lake City. The trip to Zion took a lot longer than we thought. It was literally about a 5 hour drive and you can really fly on I-15 (70 MPH). Looking back it looks much quicker from Las Vegas! The road leads you along the Wasatch, through a few mountain passes, and then through a flat area. It was early May and when we drove through the mountains we hit some flurries. Crazy when you just arrive from Virginia and it's already hot as hell.
The drive was long but it finally got interesting after passing miles of farmland. There was a point where we proceeded about 50 miles or more with no main stops on the interstate, very remote. Finally the landscape changes and you see mountains to the west with red colors. There is a National Monument called Cedar Breaks that you pass nearby on your way to Zion, but we continued.
For those that don't know, there are 2 parts to Zion. The Western most part of the park is called Kolob Canyons. We stopped at the park center and picked up a pass - good for both parts of the park. I think it was $25 which includes Kolob and the Main Zion National Park area. From there you drive up the 5 mile loop into the mountains and around some bends. The scenery is amazing and there are places to stop all through the loop. We went all the way to the top and snapped some cool pictures.
There is no easy way to get to Zion from Kolob Canyons. You have to head back on the interstate toward Toquerville and go east. Take Route 17 to Route 9 and you will be near the park entrance. On the way we saw an ostrich farm and a llama farm. We drove through some cool little towns with shops and eventually hit saw the jagged mountains of Zion in the distance. Awesome!
We got to the park entrance and stopped at the visitor center to figure everything out. For first timers, it is a different park experience. You can't just drive through it because they limit traffic due to the high volume of people. You have to ride a park bus and it drops you off at various places in the valley. From there you can hike trails and look at the views.... Incredible multicolored rock cliffs and waterfalls abundant. We took the tram up to Emerald falls and hiked the Upper and Lower falls. Highly recommended.
There is a lodge you can stay at in the park as well as a places to rent a donkeys and go riding up the mountain on a guided tour. We almost did it, but decided to hoof it instead.
The exit to the park must have been one of the best scenic drives we've been on. You drive through a tunnel and get to the other side of a mountain and the views are spectacular. There is a stop at Checkerboard Mesa and a few other places that you should get out and look for the Bighorn Sheep. We didn't see any, but apparently there are plenty in the park.
Next stop was Bryce Canyon. Admittedly, a lot in one day, but that's kinda how this trip went. Sacrifice time and driving to see things you may never see again. Bryce is about an hour away with very scenic drives to the park. There are elk and buffalo farms along the way. Eventually you come to this Red Canyon drive before entering the park and the rocks turn a maroon red and orange. Very cool drive. Once inside the park, we drove in and immediately hit an area of prairie dog crossings. We stopped and watched the critters, which are pretty funny to observe. Then we headed up and saw some amazing views again...
Inspiration point has hiking trails that you should definitely take. There was still snow on some of the buttes creating a brilliant colored spectrum on the rocks
A long day was complete, but we'll never forget the things we saw. Back to SLC for a day of relaxing.
Our forth day we decided to stay in the area and refrain from another long road trip. Antelope Island is about 40 minutes from Downtown Salt Lake City. We headed that way and got on a bridge/road that leads to the park which is located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. It was a great day, the weather finally cleared up. Gorgeous views of the mountains in the distance and a beautiful island. It feels so remote, the driving is almost therapeutic - quiet and relaxing.
However, not all that glimmers is gold. We got out of the car to hike up a large hill and we were instantaneously swarmed by the most annoying and irritating biting gnats. Do not get out of the car in May!!!
Literally ran back to the car...
Back to SLC and we drove to the Capitol Building and walked around. Had dinner later that night near the University of Utah, which was a younger, trendier area.
Tomorrow we would leave for a mega trip - Yellowstone National Park...
This place should rank high on your bucket list if not the top. The grandeur of such a pristine untouched place in the U.S. has quite a draw for visitors. It is one of the last real wildernesses. From Salt Lake City expect to drive about 5-6 hours. We left on a Friday to spend the weekend in the park. Drive up I-15 North through Pocatello and Idaho Falls. The speed limits are 70 and 75 just about the entire way. The mountains in Idaho are incredible. You'll drive along plenty of farmland but the mountains in the distance keep you drawn to the scenery.
Continue on I-15 until you get to 20 East. It will take you toward West Yellowstone, just outside the park in Montana. You'll only be in Montana for a short sliver on the map. Once into Montana you'll soon hit West Yellowstone, an interesting town outside the park where many people stay. It has a western feel with saloons and is a pretty cool town.
Finally - entering the park (It is $25 for both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons together). We entered and immediately drove in along the river and saw a herd of bison crossing the river. Driving further in, a slew of mule deer relaxing by the river. Looked to the side of the road and saw a coyote running along the road. Truly breathtaking to be a few feet away from all the wildlife.
Our destination was the "Old Faithful Lodge."
It is located in the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone and literally sits right out near the geyser. You can sit in a chair at the lodge, drink a beer, and watch it erupt every 90 minutes. Very cool.
The room we stayed in was a nice cozy room. Small, but it had a shower and sink. No TVs - but who wants that anyway in such a spectacular place.
After checking in, we ventured out to the various areas. In May, not all the roads are open, so you will want to check into road conditions. It snows a bunch up there as we saw in the mountain passes. We stopped at the West Thumb Geyser Basin and saw incredible mud pots, spectacularly colored bacterial mats, and other thermal activity.
Wildlife was abundant. One of our favorite areas was Firehole Canyon. There is a swimming area during the summer and when we drove on it at dusk, a mule deer literally walked right by our car.
Other notable areas were Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone Falls & Cascades, and Hayden Valley. You will never forget Yellowstone. It has an aura about it that is alluring and mystiquely primitive, an untouched wilderness. Preserved and raw. A must see.
A few notes:
1. It takes a long time to get from one area of Yellowstone to another (sometimes 20 miles driving through the Mountains on a one lane road).
2. Hayden Valley was "ok," but we expected more wildlife. Apparently the real area to go is Lamar Valley in the northern part of the park.
3. We saw: Coyote, Mule Deer, Buffalo. In May the bears are just awaking from hibernation. Many trails are closed off because they are aggressive. We did not see any bears, but there are supposed to be a ton. Other wildlife to see are: Moose, Pronghorn, wolves.
4. We spent 1 1/2 days in the park, but it wasn't long enough. You really need 3-4 days or more. We never got to see Mammoth Hot Springs Or Lamar Valley.
The next day we woke up and drove around Yellowstone a bit more to look for wildlife and then proceeded to drive out of the park toward Grand Tetons. The road there was essentially a long winding road. Since our trip was in May, there were still several feet of snow on the ground for many miles. Part of the road was dirt/gravel as they were doing road construction on Route 191 South. We continued driving toward Jackson Lake and eventually stopped off at the information center near Kelly, WY. We didn't travel into the park, but were able to experience incredible views of the Grand Tetons.
We left the visitor center and decided to take some back routes. We ran across this random road called "Antelope Flats Road." You can take that to Gros Ventre Road toward the tiny town of Kelly. There are lots of places to stop and back roads that you can take. You don't need 4 wheel drive, but I recommend it...our rental was all over the place on the bumpy back roads. We stumbled upon a whole herd of bison with their babies and got just a few yards away (not legal and be careful).
We continued to drive away from Kelly and the Tetons back to Salt Lake City. The GPS took us through some really cool valleys where you'll parallel the Snake River and it's amazing glacial blue color and rapids. Just seeing them makes you feel refreshed.
Our journey was near an end. We drove through some cool towns on the way back to SLC as well. Jackson Hole is a really cool town, similar to West Yellowstone. We passed through Afton and Smoot (population 100..no, really).
We reached Utah and a place called Bear Lake. The blue water was incredible.
Finally, our journey brought us down a scenic byway called Logan Canyon before getting back to Salt Lake City. The drive was amazing. I recommend stopping a few places and taking small hikes when possible. It's gorgeous countryside.
We had such a busy trip, it went by quick. However, we did so many things we'll always remember, it was well worth the exorbitant amount of mileage we put on the car. Our next trip will be to a beach vacation spot, but this was one we'll never forget. Hope this trip plan helps you with yours. Best regards to fellow travelers.