A couple of campervan-ing virgins bang out an epic Utah roadtrip.
Words Jocelyn Pride Imagery Peter Watts
A couple of campervan-ing virgins bang out an epic Utah road trip.
Words Jocelyn Pride Imagery Peter Watts
My husband and I are virgins.
Oh, we’ve talked about it heaps, but never actually done it.
Now here I am, faced with ‘The Beast’, wondering what exactly I’ve got myself into.
Long, lonely roads winding through the ethereal landscape of southwest Utah help us bond with ‘The Beast’—our DriveNow RV. And like the Mojave Desert tortoise we spot at our first stop, with our home on our backs for the next eight days, our mantra is to take things slowly.
“We don’t see many of these,” says Chad, our cycling guide, as we pull our bikes off track. Unfazed, the prehistoric creature lumbers past, scaly legs kicking up puffs of desert dust in its wake. “They’re endangered.”
Cycling with a local guide in Snow Canyon State Park is a mellow intro to a state where small treasures can be overshadowed by the famed 'Mighty 5 National Parks'. Tucked into folds of soaring rainbow-coloured cliffs chiselled over millions of years by wind and water, the canyon is like a gallery of precious art.
Monumental (geddit?) days on the road.
Cycling Snow Canyon National Park.
We follow Chad along trails dotted with wildflowers; through a narrow slot canyon; and clamber over swirls of polished slickrock to the top where the fading sun rays are turning the rock fire red. “When I’m standing up here, it makes me think no matter what’s happening in the world, there’s hope,” says Chad, spreading his arms towards the horizon.
As each day unfolds, we embrace the grandeur of our surroundings. I ride a mule named Porky to the floor of Bryce Canyon; act out movie scenes in Monument Valley; and dance like no-one is watching on top of Muley Point.
Hit play, we dare ya
In Zion National Park, I pretend to be disappointed that Angels Landing, the hairiest of all hikes in Utah, is temporarily off limits. To make up for it, we hike the short, steep Canyon Overlook trail, tramping over bridges and along precarious ledges with gobsmacking views, before a leisurely bike ride on the Pa’rus trail that snakes alongside the Virgin River. With record spring snowfalls, the lifeblood of southwest Utah is running high, and I find myself pedalling to the rhythm of the river.
Another day we hike through a canyon where the terrain changes faster than a chameleon. Following the Calf Creek Falls trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through 12 micro-climates, from arid rocky overhangs to lush wetland forest, we’re rewarded with a 40-metre drop of frigid water cascading over tiger-striped sandstone cliffs.
Bryce Canyon on my mule, Porky.
"As each day unfolds, we embrace the grandeur of our surroundings. I ride a mule named Porky to the floor of Bryce Canyon; act out movie scenes in Monument Valley; and dance like no-one is watching on top of Muley Point."
The geological richness of Utah is balanced by its Indigenous cultures.“Hozho is an important word in our language,” says Louis Williams, a proud member of the Diné tribe of the Deer Springs clan. “It’s the equilibrium, the connectiveness between nature, and our mental, physical and spiritual state.”
We’re walking beside Louis in Bears Ears National Monument. As owner and operator of Ancient Wayves River and Hiking Adventures, he shares his passion for his ancestral land with people from all over the world. “I haven’t met many Aussies though,” he says with a smile as wide as the canyon we’re standing in.
Traversing a dry creek wash trail in Cedar Mesa, Louis describes the significance of the desert flora surrounding us. “We make rope from the leaves of the yucca plant and shampoo from the roots. Juniper needles keep negative energy out of our homes, and we weave baskets from sumac.”
As the sun starts to cast shadows across the canyon, Louis quickens the pace to reach the ‘surprise’ he wants to share with us. “This is a granary where my ancestors stored food,” he explains.
Cowboy walking off into the actual sunset.
Ancient rock art.
Hidden beneath a massive sandstone rock, the ruins of this architectural masterpiece—built between 700 and 2,500 years ago and known as ‘the house on fire’ for the way the light catches the rock at certain times of day—is perfectly intact.
As we peek through its windows, I try to visualise Indigenous Puebloan life. “Squash, corn and beans were their staple crops,” Louis says. “They put food in pottery urns, lit a small fire inside the rooms and sealed up the windows. Once the fire sucked out all the oxygen, it went out and the food was preserved.”
A pictograph of a hand and sherds of broken pottery scattered in the sand adds to the profoundness of the site.
Hiking Utah's greatest National Parks.
After action-packed days, nights bring another dimension entirely. Setting up camp for us RV newbies is remarkably simple. Hook up the hose for fresh water here, connect the power cable there, and we’re all good.
Van life is very much the way of life in Utah. RV parks are friendly laid-back places to do as much or as little as you like. Sometimes we cook dinner, other nights we take the recommendation of locals and head to a restaurant or diner.
“Don’t miss Patio Diner in Blanding,” says everyone we seem to meet. This family-run hole-in-the-wall is straight out of an episode of Happy Days. And what’s even better is their burgers live up to the hype as ‘the best in the southwest.’
However, cooking dinner at Yonder in Escalante is the RV roadie highlight. We pick up a DIY food pack from the onsite shop and sit around the campfire cooking chicken and veggies. We eat too many ‘smores and sip on a fine US chardonnay beneath a big sky crammed with stars.
Eight days, 1,700 kms, and untold adventures in ‘The Beast’ now turned ‘Bestie’. With the RV cherry popped, I’m only left wondering, what took us so long.
Writer was hosted by DriveNow Rentals and Utah Tourism Office.
Long and winding roads.
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