I am extremely fortunate to have Ally come guest blog today, but both of us having gone through blog tours and interviews where you get asked the same questions over and over again, I thought we’d change things up a bit.
Ally: The setting for CROSSED is based largely on southern Utah, where Ally was born and raised. Rob also loves southern Utah and has traveled there extensively. So we have put together a guide for you, encompassing five fun-filled days in some of the world’s most beautiful terrain (and that is not an exaggeration), where wildlife and the occasional polygamist still roam free (also not an exaggeration).
As we put together this blog, it became apparent that our priorities for travel are perfectly in sync (with the exception of an unfortunate disagreement partway through the hypothetical road trip). Our first priority is beautiful scenery that you can enjoy with your family. Our second is food. We both knew exactly where and what we thought we should eat at all times. So, without further preamble, we present:
ALLY AND ROB’S GUIDE TO A SOUTHERN UTAH ROAD TRIP
Ally: Let’s say you take this trip in early fall, so as to avoid both the summertime crowds and the worst of the heat. Let’s say you start in Vegas. Just because. If you start in Salt Lake City instead, simply reverse the order of this trip.
Virgin River Gorge
Drive about an hour and a half from Vegas to St. George on I-15. You will see some beautiful, desolate space and then drive up through a crazy, twisting canyon (Rob, help, what is the name of that canyon???)
Rob: It’s the Virgin River Gorge, and I recently got to drive a 30 foot U-Haul through it. It’s nerve-wracking (and spectacular).
Ally: I can’t decide if it’s more nerve-wracking coming up through it or going down into it. I think the latter. Because you know if your brakes are gone you are gone too. If I had to drive a U-Haul through that canyon I would probably cry. Then die.
And on that pleasant note… drive on. Once you reach St. George, stop. You can eat at a number of places but I quite like Larsen’s Frostop where you can get a slushy with an iceberg of ice cream immersed in it. Also fries and fry sauce. DO NOT LEAVE UTAH WITHOUT TRYING FRY SAUCE. Spend the rest of the day in Snow Canyon hiking.
Rob: Just outside of St. George is Tuacahn, which is an enormous amphitheater with the gorgeous red rocks as the backdrop to the stage. I’ve never even seen a show there—I just visited the amphitheater during the day—but it was breathtaking.
Ally: The next morning, drive to Zion National Park. It’s best to spend days and days in Zion but we’ll assume that you only have one day/night. You can do the Emerald Pools hike (one of my kids’ faves) and also no trip is complete without hiking at least to the bottom of the Narrows. This is the kind of slot canyon that Ky and Cassia escape into during CROSSED. (The full Narrows hike is, of course, the best, but you’ll have to get a permit and it will take a full day and if you aren’t an experienced hiker, etc., it might be problematic. Also, the Subway is an awesome hike but again, you will need a permit.)
I also highly recommend Angel’s Landing (no permit required, but definitely not for little kids because it’s dangerous at the end). It is very steep but you will be rewarded with ridiculously beautiful views.
Rob: Angel’s Landing is one of those must-do-before-you-die things. At some points you’re literally clinging to chains so you don’t drop a thousand feet to your death. But it’s absolutely worth it.
Angel’s Landing. Yes, that’s the trail.
Ally: The chains! The chains are so scary! I always worry they’re going to pop out of the rock while I’m hanging on to them.
For dinner, I recommend that you eat at the Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon that night. Camp in one of the many campgrounds, or stay at the Zion Lodge.
Rob: Speaking of restaurants, before you get into Zion stop in Springdale for some Bumbleberry Pie. I don’t know what a Bumbleberry is, but it’s delicious.
A: Bumbleberry Pie! How could I forget?
Utah Shakespeare Festival
The next morning, wake up and drive to Cedar City (it will take you a little over an hour). This is my hometown. This is the most beautiful place in the world. There you can hike more slot canyons at Kanarra Falls (about 5 min. outside of Cedar City), go to the world-renowned Utah Shakespeare Festival, and eat at the Pizza Factory (get the breadsticks). For a treat, go to Bulloch Drug (owned by my brother-in-law’s family!) for an ice cream soda at their old-fashioned soda fountain. Watch the sun set over the red hill.
R: Curses! Ally drove a different direction than I did (presumably due to her ridiculous Cedar City bias). Don’t go that way. Drive east through Zion (through an amazing mile-long tunnel in the cliffs) and through the less-traveled half of Zion, which is just as geologically amazing, though very different. Then stop at Mount Carmel Junction for more pie at the Thunderbird Lodge (I like pie) and head north.
Stop in Glendale and, if you can find it (you might have to ask the locals, because I don’t think it’s marked) hike up the slot canyon to Spring Hollow.
And then we meet up with Ally again, who has headed east out of Cedar City and is back on Highway 89. From there we head to Bryce Canyon. We’re only a few hours from Zion but the geology couldn’t be more different. One of the early pioneers who settled nearby famously referred to Bryce Canyon as “one hell of a place to lose a cow”. Bryce has a ton of great hikes, but you can also just hit all the canyon rim overlooks and it’s still worth it. Camp there, and be sure to wake up early to watch the sunrise over the rocks.
Near the Hogback
Then we take one of my favorite drives ever, east from Bryce and along a road that has just about everything southern Utah has to offer: bleak wasteland, amazing rocks formations, and pine-covered peaks. There’s a section of the road called the Hogback, where the road is along a ridge with thousand-foot drop offs on both sides.
A: Now Rob and I are in a fight, because he dissed Cedar City. But I’m going to eventually forgive him because, while he slighted my beloved city, he is right about two very important things 1) pie is good and we should eat lots of it and 2) the Mt. Carmel area is very gorgeous.
Drive on over to Torrey, Utah, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.. Go fishing at Bicknell Bottoms if you like fishing (and have a permit). Hike Grand Wash and/or Hickman Bridge (two of our favorites). Pick an apricot from the little orchards planted by the pioneers and marvel at how anyone managed to build a village in such a beautiful and difficult place. This is another spot that inspired a lot of the setting for CROSSED (think the stream, the settlement, the plain, etc., if you’ve read the book).
That evening, if you have a little extra money, eat at Café Diablo. If you don’t, try Austin’s Chuck Wagon Restaurant. (This is also a great place to stay.) Go for an evening drive to see the pronghorn. Let your kids choose a rock from one of the rock shops. When they pick a blue one that is obviously not a color found in nature, grit your teeth and bear it. They will care about authenticity later! Or maybe not at all. (This is actually about two days’ worth of things to do, so you might have to pick and choose.)
R: This proves that Ally is awesome. Torrey is one of my favorite places on earth. If you don’t want to camp, there’s a great little bed and breakfast just east of town, the SkyRidge Inn, where I ate the best breakfast I’ve ever had.
Petroglyphs at Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef is actually my favorite national park in Utah, in part because it’s the least-visited. It’s just quiet and serene and beautiful. Also, one of my great interests is the anthropology of the southwest, and Capitol Reef has some gorgeous rock art.
From there, head east again, and take a lunch stop at Goblin Valley, which by this point is God just showing off that He has a million awesome ways to make rocks. When I was a Boy Scout, Goblin Valley was the ideal place for endless hours of Capture the Flag.
TIP: If it’s winter, and you see a dirt road heading north out of Goblin Valley and you and your wife say “Hey, this looks fun”, and you’re driving a tiny little sedan, and there’s a sign that says “Don’t get out of your cars and explore because there are old mines with possibly unstable dynamite”, and there’s mud a foot deep, then you PROBABLY SHOULDN’T TAKE THAT ROAD, DUMMY. (My wife and I made it out, eventually.)
A: I now leave it up to readers to decide who is the more responsible traveler and whose path they should follow back at the point when our paths diverged back near Cedar City.
Arches National Park
R: The right way to go is up to the interstate, and then back down to Arches and Moab. I admit that I’m not a fan of Moab (even though it’s beautiful) because it’s always really crowded.
A: My experience is the same. It’s so pretty, but part of the fun for me is NOT seeing people all the time when you’re trying to be out in the wilderness.
R: But if you’re feeling adventurous, and this stops being a roadtrip and becomes a backpacking trip, head further south, down to Blanding and Cedar Mesa. There are amazing Anasazi ruins all over that area. I recommend the Grand Gulch. It’s several days in the backcountry, but totally, totally worth it.
(And then, if you want to go just a bit further south, you hit the iconic Monument Valley, which appears in almost every Western movie ever.)
Crap! We’re nowhere near Salt Lake City now!
A: But we probably can find some really good food somewhere. I’m sure of it.