6 Must-See Stops from California to Utah | A Road Trip to Zion
Nothing quite beats the feeling of waking up and realising that today is the day you get to forego the routine, grab your bags, your sunscreen and travel snacks, and hit the road. The night before leaving to Zion National Park, I lay awake staring at the ceiling in excitement, relishing in the child-like anticipation of adventure.
In my mind, I ticked off my pre-travel tasks:
Comfortable clothes and breathable hijabs packed ✔
Road trip snacks prepped ✔
Audio books, Quran, and music for car ride downloaded ✔
Camera equipment stored in bag with full batteries ✔
The next morning, I double-checked my list, scoffed down some breakfast, snuck a few extra treats in the food bag and headed out.
I opened the front door. A rush of thick hot air hit me as if a heater was suddenly turned on on full blast. The sun was out, stretching its rays far and wide. It was more than 40°C outside and I was headed for the desert.
This is my trip to Zion.
The Trona Pinnacles
Three hours from the bustling crowds of Los Angeles is the quietest place I have ever been to. The Trona Pinnacles are a silent city of towering spirals that sprout from dusty earth, empty for miles around. Once upon a time -10,000 to100,000 years ago to give some context - they lived in the depths of a vast lake. These stubby formations are a result of the mixing of calcium carbonate and alkaline lake water that were left behind when the lake dried up.
These peculiar formations coupled with the silence and emptiness of the area made me feel eery and peaceful at the same time. This was soon put to a side as we climbed the odd spirals, found little cave-like craters in them, and took these wonderfully strange shots.
The Narrows at Zion
I woke up the next morning in Zion. The heat had not subsided - if anything it had only increased plus we were surrounded by dry plains and desert lands! Hiking wasn't high on my wish list on a day like that. However, the Narrows convinced me otherwise. As the name suggest, this hike runs through a narrow canyon, in which flows the Virgin River. Even on one of the hottest summer days, the river water was cool and the canyon walls offered some much needed shade. As you wade through the flowing water, you encounter mini waterfalls, smooth rock clusters and splash through water the can reach up to your middle!
I specifically bought water shoes to hike through the Narrows, expensive and sturdy. However, shortly after getting off the shuttle bus and walking up to the entrance, I felt the shoes rubbing at the back of my heel. I took a breath and continued. The shoes would adjust, I reasoned to myself. I started wincing as I walked, feeling the hard brush of the shoe against my heel. Finally, Shakir stopped me and I checked my foot to see an angry blister forming. There was no way I could continue wearing the shoes when hiking but I could hardly go barefoot either. As I gingerly walked back to the bus stop, dejected, I noticed a bunch of tourists picking up last minute supplies from a souvenir shop. I looked closer. The display in the front was stocked with - you guessed it - a whole variety of water shoes.
Tip: Always break into shoes beforehand.
We rose early the next morning to make our way to the sleek walls and narrow paths of Antelope Canyon. Funny mishap - Antelope Canyon is on the border of Arizona and we were travelling from our hotel in Utah, not realising that there was a one hour shift that would happen when we crossed the border. We ended up hanging around the guided tour pick up spot for more than an hour but better an hour early than an hour late!
The winding walls of the canyon were formed by wind as well as water from flash floods that still threaten to fill the gaps of this canyon during monsoon season. If you're visiting, make sure to make reservations early - guided tours are the only way to access this unique spot so they fill up fast.
Later that day, we made our way to the towering rock pillars of Bryce Canyon. These rugged pillars are called hoodoos and are formed from years of powerful erosion that are still changing the landscape today. Interestingly, you can actually hear the erosive forces if you visit at the right time. If you visit Bryce during late winter or early spring you can hear the ground groaning and grinding as gravel shakes loose and rocks tumble as the snow melts.
We hiked the Navajo Loop trail which took us in between the hoodoos, close enough the touch their dusty walls. We also checked out the Natural Bridge and Rainbow point for some spectacular views.
Canyon Overlook at Zion
We headed back to Zion for our last day to do the Canyon Overlook Trail. This trail is perfect if you aren't wanting to do anything too strenuous but still would like to see those much photographed views of Zion Canyon. For the the hottest day of our trip, this was a fairly easy hike (though getting to the overlook is mostly uphill) and the view of the valley before us was worth the sweat! Something we quickly came to realise about travelling in the heat was to take advantage of sunrises and sunsets. Not only does everything look ten times more beautiful in the light, but the sun is much more forgiving and the hikes a lot easier.
The Valley of fire
This was our last scenic stop on the way back to LA and really helped end this trip with a bang (as you may imagine any place with such a name would!). In between Las Vegas and Zion, it's a stretch of land full of brilliantly orange aztec sandstone, formed from shifting sand dunes and eroded sandstone. It derives its name from its tendency to morph into a blazing valley of red when touched by the sun.