Living in an RV full time, we endlessly roam the country and never call one place home for too long, outside the four walls of our rig, Doris. While in many ways, this is a continuous, never-ending road trip, real life (read: a day job) can limit our freedom to explore on a whim, cover ground daily, or make spontaneous stops along the way. We found ourselves yearning for a classic road trip, romanticized by the likes of Kerouac, keeping a loose schedule and open mind. We took a week off from the real world and embarked on an epic journey through the great American Southwest, from Arizona to Utah hitting six stops along the way.
Petrified Forest National Park
We pulled up to a free campsite at one of the two kitschy gift shops, touting petrified rock, fossils and Native American wares for sale. We arrived a bit later than we originally anticipated, and as we headed in we were informed of the strict rules against staying in the park passed closing at 5 PM. We scrambled to see as much as we could and as we were making our way down the Blue Mesa trail, a ranger pulled up to alert everyone it was time to leave the park. We did a little research and found that the reason for these strict rules is to protect the petrified wood from being stolen. Over the last several decades, tourists have taken petrified wood pieces–small and large– as souvenirs, depleting the park of its history. Some have returned their stolen artifacts in envelopes and letters or returned those of elders who hadn’t known any better. Apparently that returned wood is saved and deposited into a pile by the National Park Services off a service road within the park, dubbed “Conscience Pile.”
We had both visited the Grand Canyon previously, but never did the Hermit’s Rest shuttle tour. We boarded the redline and made various stops along the route to see views of the Colorado river and deep canyons. This was an excellent way to get a taste of all the Grand Canyon has to offer in a short time frame! At the end of the day, we took the drive up to the Watchtower for a sunset picnic and watched the violet and pink rays bounce off the cliffs of the canyon.
We stayed in the parking lot right outside the trail for Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ. We headed out before dawn and took the quick mile long hike to the huge to the rim of the canyon. When we arrived there were already a dozen tourists and photographers set up, taking preliminary shots of the iconic view of the Colorado River. We snapped a few photos and headed back to our RV to plan our next move. As we contemplated trying to visit Antelope Canyon (which, we inevitably passed on due to scheduling), a group of Japanese tourists popped by our open door asking to see inside since they had never seen such a giant moving house in their country. Within no time we had half a dozen new friends, touring our RV! We said our goodbyes and headed on toward Zion.
Zion National Park
Unfortunately, rain was in the forecast while we visiting Zion so we opted to stay at an RV park on the east entrance, rather than risking a muddy situation on BLM land. On the bright side, the east entrance afforded us the opportunity to take the scenic drive in and out of the park each day. We hit the famous Narrows hike first, wading through water while encompassed by high cliff walls. The next day we were pleasantly surprised to find that between the rain, the sun warmed the park and provided great weather for several small hikes including Upper Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Grotto. While we were too concerned about slippery conditions to attempt Angel’s Landing, we did get great views along the strenuous Hidden Canyon hike.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The first day we arrived, the snow and fog were so thick you couldn’t see a hoodoo or canyon anywhere. Far too cold and wet to make an enjoyable hiking day, we took a mid-trip day of reprieve. Luckily day two at Bryce was dry and sunny, but chilly! Despite the cold weather, this was by far our favorite park of the trip and top three of all time. Between the hoodoos that reach up to touch the clouds to the absolutely breathtaking night sky, littered with stars, Bryce Canyon is full of magic and wonder. We hiked the entire second day along the figure eight loop, which included the Queen’s Garden, Peek-a-Boo loop and half of the Navajo Loop (Wall Street was unfortunately still closed for the season). Around every corner of this hike was a new vista, unique rock formation and jaw dropping landscape.
Capitol Reef National Park
With every intention of backcountry camping on this trip, we headed into Capitol Reef with loads of research and high hopes. As we had been rained out of Zion and snowed out of Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef was our last chance of the trip for some off the grid adventure. However, after speaking with rangers at the visitor center we were convinced to pass on backpacking for this trip. Surprisingly, these volunteers and rangers were less helpful than what we were used to–urging us to purchase merchandise from the gift store rather than providing recommendations. We were also disappointed to hear the Cathedral Drive had been washed out, so our offroading was going to be fairly limited. Eventually Capitol Reef did win us over with it’s beautiful views of the Water Pocket Fold, unique juxtaposition of orchards and red rockland, and enjoyable hikes. We particularly loved our challenging hike up Cassidy Arch, named after Butch Cassidy. We also did a stint of the Grand Wash and hiked the Hickman Bridge, likely the most popular hike of the park. And yes, the pies at the Gifford Homestead in the historic Fruita district are delicious!
The beautiful thing about life on the road is even when your vacation ends, there is immediately something next to look forward to. Another trip to plan, another destination on the horizon. Next up, Moab!