Clockwise from top left: Under the Eaves Inn; Angels’ Landing’s zenith in Zion; sunset at the Windows in Arches. Courtesy of Under The Eaves Inn. NPS (Angels’ LandIng In Zion). Neal Herbert/NPS (Arches).
So many John Ford films of the 1940s and ’50s were shot in Southern Utah’s Monument Valley National Park that a generation’s notions of the West were cemented in its red rock mesas. The sandstone gorges and precipitous canyon drops through which Wile E. Coyote pursued the Road Runner were born of this real place, too.
Anyone could easily devote weeks to trekking through Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands, to name just a few of the geological stunners in the Colorado Plateau, the region that covers the Four Corners (where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet). If you’ve only got a few days to explore, scale down your trip to sights you can see, or get to easily, by car: Zion and Arches national parks.
If you fly into Las Vegas, head northeast on I-15 toward the Springdale, Utah, entrance to Zion National Park, 167 miles (about a two and a half hours’ drive) away. The flat Nevada terrain will suddenly be broken by a wall of mountains into which the highway snakes between pale, rusted cliff faces alongside the Virgin River. You’ll pass rolling hills and high plateaus on the way to the entrance of Zion.
Zion’s auto-tour highway is a must-do for day 1, and a few short, one-hour hikes can easily introduce you to the kind of gargantuan vistas that instantly crowd out thoughts of home. You’ll wonder if you’ve ever seen the sky look so blue, so inscrutable, and so huge.
The four-plus-hour, 300-mile drive to Moab, Utah — the town outside Arches National Park — will give you ample time to rest your legs. Grab some lunch in town and head to the Delicate Arch for sunset; some salami, apples, cheese, and wine go marvelously with the view.
Near Zion: under the eaves inn is a cute, quaint, gay-owned B&B in Springdale, Utah. UndertheEaves.com
Near Arches: The Castle Valley inn has a B&B atmosphere on five acres of orchards with gorgeous views. 424 Amber Lane; CastleValleyInn.com
In Zion: Among the dozens of hikes, angels Landing is a must, but at five miles, the somewhat strenuous round-trip hike takes at least four hours. Pack water, but save your lunch for the zenith past the steep, narrow ridge, hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. It’s a view of imposing cliff walls that’ll take your breath away.
In Arches: Do the devils Garden hike and come back along the Primitive Trail loop, which only a few hikers take. The slickrock fins and hidden arches are geological oddities you’ll see nowhere else, and the solitary, 150-foot Dark Angel sandstone tower presides over a hidden panel of thousand-plus-year-old Native American petroglyphs.