Deserts and Desserts

Utah is a unique state with amazing geology. It is home to 5 national parks, and California is the only state that has more (besides Alaska but we don’t have time to visit this year!). There is so much to see and we planned to explore the area for a month. We began our time in the state with a few days at Bear Lake, which spans the border of Idaho and Utah. This lake has unique limestone deposits in the water which make it look like the Caribbean and we spent a few low key days there playing on the beach. 

After Bear Lake we headed to Deer Creek Reservoir which is driving distance from Salt Lake City and a few ski towns. We ventured into Salt Lake City one day to tour the Mormon Temple grounds and visit the capitol, went to Sundance for a hike and saw Park City as well. The fall colors were stunning and made our hikes even more enjoyable.

Beautiful fall color
Detailed murals at the Utah capitol
More colors in nature!
The reward at the end of a hike…
And the reward at the end of the day

We made our way further into the state and headed to Moab for a fun weekend with my parents. It was one of the highlights of our trip, for sure! We had an awesome boondocking site (no water, electric or sewer hookups) with incredible views of the red rocks. Our days were spent exploring Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Benjamin and my evenings were kid free as Mabry and Hayes spent the night at the hotel with their grandparents. They loved having grandparent time, swimming and taking actual baths instead of showers. It was wonderful to spend time with family and to get to see the Moab area with my parents (who are there often). They even brought their ice cream maker and we made ice cream at our campsite one afternoon. We were all sad to part ways!

Our great site
Hiking with Ama
Stunning scenery
More beauty
Our yummy treat
Rare family pic at Canyonlands!

From Moab we headed to southern Utah and the Natural Bridges Monument. We are enjoying the monuments so much more than national parks because they are much less crowded. There, we did more of what you do in Utah: hike and take in the scenery. 

A view at Natural Bridges

I think we will remember two things from Capital Reef NP: apples and our first snow on this trip! Mormon settlers established various orchards in the town of Fruita and the parks service maintains them to this day. We were able to go into one of the orchards and pick apples, but those didn’t compare in size or sweetness to our campground which also had apple trees. We loved getting to eat fruit straight off of the tree and it inspired Mabry and myself to make an apple pie with apples we had picked. It went really well with the leftover ice cream from Moab! Even though I don’t have much of my kitchen equipment in the camper, it hasn’t held us back from making some of our favorite foods. We took a neat hike in the park along a riverbed through the narrows, and woke on our last morning to snow!! The kids were so excited and loved getting out in it. For me and Benjamin, it meant that it was time to move on to warmer temps. 

In the apple orchard
The narrows
Snow balls!

Onward to my favorite of the Utah parks, Bryce Canyon. We were trying to escape the cold but it followed us and snowed again! The geologic formations here almost seemed fake, like a movie set. We (again) took an amazing hike through the hoodoos (thin, tall rock towers) and had to climb a very steep area at the end that almost did me in :).

The road goes on forever
Thor’s hammer, which Hayes was excited to see
A natural window
Such a beautiful place

We wrapped up our grand tour of Utah at Zion NP. It was a different experience from the other parks as you have to park in town and take a shuttle in, unless you get there at 7 am and score a spot in the very small lot inside the park. As we were walking in, I commented that it felt like we were entering a zoo and thats pretty much what it was on the day we visited. The shuttle busses through the park were standing room only. We participated in the Junior Ranger program (as with all of the parks) and went on a riverside hike but that was it. The scenery is very pretty and we might have had a different opinion if we had gone on a different hike, but one day was enough here. I think at this point we had seen so many pretty places that we were hard to impress. We headed back to Cedar City (where we were staying) and called it a day. The kids and I did visit a fun pioneer museum in town where we viewed a large collection of stagecoaches, toured an old home that had been moved to the property, and wandered around looking at old farm equipment. Cedar Breaks Monument is near the town and we drove there one afternoon. We weren’t equipped for the 40 degree temperature drop and the amount of snow that had accumulated! I was in my Birkenstocks and Hayes in shorts and short sleeves but the kids enjoyed playing in the snow for a bit while Benjamin and I watched from the car. 

A view in Zion NP
Working on Junior Ranger booklets
An old stagecoach
Yay to snow!

After all of that time in Utah, and all of the amazing natural wonders, we changed gears in a major way and headed to Vegas. We needed a few days of warm, dry weather to do some exterior maintenance on the Airstream and this was an easy place to be based. The kids thought the strip was so cool. We visited the M&M store and spent too much money on candy, and walked down to the Bellagio to see the fountain show, which was better than Old Faithful according to the kids. Once B was finished with his project, we got back out of town! We visited Hoover Dam which is something I have wanted to see for a long time. I really like the Art Deco style and it was nice to see the dam and learn a little about how it was built. We also took a day trip to Death Valley NP where we were 190’ below sea level! The temperature was in the 80’s but can climb to 130 in the summer. I can’t imagine that type of heat. We climbed around on some sand dunes and visited a ghost town outside of the park that was thriving in the early 1900’s but when the mines weren’t as productive as people expected, the area was abandoned. It was neat to see the building ruins and we popped in to a little museum with unusual art.

Posing at the M&M store
Hoover Dam!
View of the sand dunes in Death Valley
Unusual art in a ghost town

Next up was Joshua Tree NP, a place that has been on Benjamin’s list for a long time. We all loved this park! Joshua trees are not true trees, but a type of yucca plant. They were named as such by Mormon settlers who thought there was a similarity to Joshua reaching his hands to the sky. I thought the trees were straight out of a Dr Seuss book! These trees only grow in a small region of the US, mostly southern California and a bit into Arizona, Utah and Nevada. There are an estimated 2.5 million of them. We did a few hikes in the park, saw an old gold mine and played among the rocks. Once again we boondocked and the kids loved climbing around all of the rocks in our site. Mabry wants to be a real rock climber! We’ll have to sign her up for classes eventually if the interest is still there. 

A Joshua Tree
Camping among the rocks
Evening s’mores

Whew… sorry for the long post! I was about 6 weeks behind, and now have caught up with my writing. We are currently in New Mexico to see White Sands and do some sledding, so that will be my next entry!