Nothing prepared us for the mountain vistas of Utah; not Yellowstone, not Glacier National Park, nor any of the magnificent scenic areas we had visited on the first four months of our grand US RV tour.
Utah took the sum of all that we had witnessed on the initial 4,635 miles from Florida to America’s Great West and turned it into an elegant equation of ultimate grandeur, a mountainous melting pot for the ages.
Our usual WPMs (Wows Per Minute) were replaced by OMGs as we encountered a spectacular mix of 12 national parks and monuments that simply demanded we recalibrate our vocabulary and turn it all the way up to 11.
We’d had a pretty good tune-up, mind you. After leaving the wilds of beautiful, immense Wyoming behind, we had reached southern Idaho – via motorways I-80 and I-84 – and two unique geological marvels that immediately set our pulses racing as they filled our windscreen, twin exemplars of what was to come.
City of Rocks National Reserve presented an outlandish terrain of granite monoliths several hundred feet high and spread across 58.3kmsq, a rocky labyrinth of bewildering proportions but ideal for rockbclimbers and hikers alike. For once, our luck with the weather went awry, though – a sudden, huge thunderstorm sent us scrambling for cover.
Happily, we discovered the pizza perfection of Rock City Mercantile in the adjacent town of Almo and devoured a magnificent 12-inch pizza, washed down by two excellent craft ales from the local Highlander Beer brewery, as we sat in our car and let the lightning rage around us.
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The next day took us to another planet. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve burst out of the ground like the lunar landscape that inspired its name. Here, amid 15,000-year-old cinder cones, lava tubes and volcanic discharge, we goggled at the dark, alien shapes that proliferated across the 85km Great Rift, a lurking subterranean fissure that remains dormant but not extinct.
The tumultuous Snake River, a historic waterway that has sliced a startling 128km canyon through the basaltic substrata, also cut right across our route. The city of Twin Falls, where Evel Knievel famously failed to leap the 490-metre width in 1974, straddles the canyon at one point.
Today, Twin Falls offers the massive Perrine Bridge, with its steel span 148m above the river. It’s beloved by base-jumpers as a place to test their parachuting mettle by hitting a prepared target on the south bank rather than the oily green waters of the river itself. For several hours we watched, amazed, as jumpers leaped off a miniscule platform halfway across the bridge and pulled their ripcords just in time to land gracefully on terra firma. We were even more impressed that many then opted to mountaineer their way back up the canyon with ’chutes carefully packed, ready for another jump.
From Idaho, we headed down I-15 to Utah. Knowing the state’s mountain profile, we were wary of journeying too far off the highway in our RV, Indefatigable (or Fati for short), with the Rockies forming a major challenge for heavyweight traffic down the spine of the state.
Instead, we identified three bases from which we could explore further in our car, Nippy. The first of these was Layton, just north of Salt Lake City. With access to the Great Salt Lake, the birding Mecca of Antelope Island State Park and great hiking into the Rockies, Valley View RV Resort provided the perfect launch point.
Here, we enjoyed pickleball, swimming in the resort pool and dining from visiting food trucks while also learning the bizarre history of Antelope Island, where prehistoric peoples first appeared 6,000 years ago, before it became a Mormon ranch and then a bison-hunting preserve. The bison still roam, but the only hunting is done by photographers keen to snap the 250 species of bird that make homes by the thousand, including ring-necked pheasants, burrowing owls, California quails and peregrine falcons.
A 19th-century counter-point was provided by Golden Spike National Historic Park, an unexpected outdoor homage to the pivotal moment in US history when the country was united by the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. The story is beautifully presented and celebrated daily with a reconstruction of that momentous occasion, complete with reconditioned steam trains.
Our second stop along I-15 was a golf course, and an exceedingly smart one, too. With a section of redundant car park reconfigured with 37 RV sites, Gladstan Golf Course in Payson opened the way to Utah’s hinterland via US Highway 6, a key route through the Rockies.
We had long decided this was a mountain road too far for Fati, but we were confident in Nippy and set our sights on the desert town of Green River for a three-day stopover that would put us on the doorstep of four National and State Parks.
The charming River Terrace Inn provided a boutique bolthole at the end of each day as we chalked up 739 miles of epic exploring, starting with the astounding Goblin Valley State Park – a kaleidoscopic collection of hoodoos, or eroded rock spires – and finishing with the magnificent Arches National Park, a stupendous realm of weather-sculpted sandstone that defied the imagination. It felt more like a landscape created by Gaudi, Da Vinci and Van Gogh rather than Mother Nature.
In between, we toured Canyonlands National Park, with its stunning plateau views that appeared to stretch to the horizon, and the more modest but still compelling Potash Road, rife with 1,000-year-old petroglyphs, prehistoric dinosaur tracks and awesome windows into the seemingly endless canyons. For hiking, Little Wild Horse Canyon provided close-ups of the more human-scale slot-canyon formations.
Heading back to Payson along Highway 6 via Soldier Summit – the 2279m-high pass through the Rockies – the return journey seemed even more dramatic, as the landscape transitioned from the stark high desert of the Colorado Plateau to the river canyon of Castle Gate, then the red sandstone cliffs of the towering Wasatch Mountains, complete with pine and cottonwood forests.
After reuniting with Fati we headed south to Cedar City, hoping for more National Park splendour. We weren’t disappointed.
From Cedar City RV Resort, we were able to cruise along Highway 12, an all-American Road that started with the impressive cliffs of the Red Canyon and blossomed into the steepling immensity of Bryce Canyon National Park, where every turn revealed a majestic new vista. Thick ponderosa pine forest guarded the entrance and then, Bam! Blockbuster view after blockbuster view filled our sights in a non-stop cavalcade of canyon-esque wonders.
At the 2,780m finale of Rainbow Point, we simply stood staring in awe at this multi-coloured colossus, a panorama of staggering dimensions that tailed off into the far distance, testament to a “wind, water and time” scenario that defied any human scale.
Equally captivating was Cedar Breaks National Monument, which took us up to 3,048m and delivered its own symphony of weathered wonders, while Parowan Gap took the opposite tack and laced its river-hewn cliffs with mysterious petroglyphs, mute signs of the art and symbolism of the Fremont peoples, who date back almost 5,000 years.
Like Yellowstone and Wyoming, Utah captured our hearts in ways both expected and unforeseen; with inspiring scenery, pristine wilderness and age-old wildlife, but also with cute towns and a level of genuine friendliness that seemed to stem from its Mormon foundations.
There were also the freight trains. Very long freight trains. We measured one at more than a mile as it chugged stoically through the emptiness of the Great Basin, part of the high desert plain that shape-shifted in subtle ways as we headed south through a beguiling mix of quixotic terrains.
After the relaxed affability of Utah, we wondered how the gambling mindset of Sin City would compare…
Next stops: Nevada and Southern California…
How to do it
- Learn the measurements of your RV by heart, especially the height and width, to avoid low bridges and narrow lanes. Our Winnebago Sightseer is 36ft long, 12.5ft high and 8.5ft wide.
- Use a specialist RV GPS for mapping journeys, not the one on your phone (which might direct you on a route unsuitable for long or high vehicles). We have the Garmin 890.
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