Utah Road Trip

I have wanted to visit Arches and Canyonlands national park for a while now and recently i had some time off work so i decided to take a road trip out to those parks. Initially i hesitated to take this trip and government shutdown happened and it wasn’t possible to go anyway but when utah decided to open its parks i decided to go for it for sure.

I tried to find some company for this trip but i suppose since this was planned during the week no one had time plus i wanted to do it during the week so that the parks along with vegas won’t be super busy. The initial plan was to leave LA on monday (10/14) morning, spend monday night in vegas and then tuesday morning head over to Moab. Spend 3 days camping/hiking in arches and canyonland and then on way back spend Thursday night in vegas and back to LA on friday but my trip turned into something totally different.

My plan was to wing it and find a campsite in one of the parks but then when i did little more research i found the campsites could be full so i tried to book something in advance but the parks reservation site was down because of the shutdown. All the campsites at Dead Horse Point state park were booked so i decided to book my camp site at the archview resort which seemed to be closer to both the parks and quite convenient. I booked it for 3 nights instead of 2 which i had planned earlier and it turned out to be a wise decision.

I wasn’t planning on doing anything during the weekend but a last minute dive trip to oil rigs came up and i couldn’t say no to that, oil rigs are one of my favorite dive sites around LA and i will dive them every chance i get.

I took my sweet time getting ready monday morning and left LA around noon for Vegas, i reached vegas just in time to watch the colts vs chargers and much to my disappointment the colts lost and i didn’t get enough fantasy points from TY Hilton or Antonio Gates. I stayed at Rio and was really impressed by the rooms, after the game went out to have some fun. yes what happens in vegas stays in vegas 🙂

Next day i left vegas pretty early in the morning since it was going to be almost 8hr drive with all the breaks. To my surprise the official speed limit as i left vegas was 75 and then 80 in Utah, it was a very welcome change as compared to 70 or 65 on most of california freeways. After i got into I-70 the landscape changed a lot and i took my time stopping at various view points and taking pictures. I was making some good time so wasn’t in a hurry anymore so i did stop at almost every possible viewing area.

Castle Valley overlook

Looking over Castle Valley


The road winding through

Almost after 9 hours i reached archview resort and immediately got my campsite established. Next order of business was to get dinner and i decided to drive to Moab which is about 9 miles away from this place. I wanted to go to the information center and get more information about the parks and the things to do but it was closed. I had dinner at a nice italian restaurant and walked in town for a bit. I really liked the small town vibe of Moab and wished i had more time to explore it.

I decided to visit Canyonlands first on wednesday for some reason i don’t quite remember. i think it had to do something with the moon rise times not sure. After havign breakfast i left for canyonlands and headed to information center to find out what my options were etc. I did entertain thought of possibly doing a backpacking trip but there were no permits available.

After looking at the map, i was intrigued by the idea of possibly going on unpaved roads which require a 4×4 and would offer better views of the park but there was a side note to check the conditions of the road first. I spoke with the ranger and he said all the roads were in pretty good conditions so i decided to take the shafer trail road and hike to the gooseneck overlook for views on the Colorado river.

The road looked pretty steep and scary and going down into the canyon i was little scared but it was totally worth it. The trail to the overlook is pretty short and i did get good views of the colorado river, it wasn’t anything spectacular but it was nice nonetheless. As always i took my time taking pictures and enjoying the views. The drive back wasn’t as bad as i expected though it was nice to be back on the paved road. I was planning on stopping at all the viewing points on the way and do the small hikes to the various look out points and it worked out well.

Shafer trail

Looking back at Shafer trail descending into the Canyon

Colorado River from Gooseneck overlook on white rim road.

Colorado River from Gooseneck overlook

Next on the way was Mesa Arch which is a small arch overlooking the canyon and a good spot for some sunrise photography but i was too late for that. It is half a mile hike which offers good view of the canyons. I planned to come back here for some night photography, i thought it would make for some interesting shooting and the hike itself was pretty straightforward and short.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch

Going further along on the road i stopped at buck canyon overlook and then i decided to have lunch before doing the hike to white rim overlook. As i started this hike there was barely anyone on the trail as compared to the mesa arch which was quite crowded. At the end this hike gave some spectacular views of the canyons but the light wasn’t great for photography and that is when i decided to experiment with HDR feature of my camera.

I am not a fan of HDR in general but then when i saw the results i was pretty sold on it and i was taking most of the pictures using the inbuilt HDR functionality, even though after processing everything i ended up deleting most of them. I came across a lone tree on the edge and it was fun taking pictures of it and playing around. i spent more than 5 minutes at this one spot, thank god for digital cameras that i didn’t have to worry about the amount of pictures i took.

Lonely tree

The lonely tree

The road ends in spot where you can hike to grand point overlook which is the southern end of island in the sky area and offers pretty amazing views of the le sal mountains and the canyons on the east side of the park. The entire hike is on the rim and then later on it switches to the other side of the park. It was the only time when i felt that i should ask someone else to take my picture and i did get one taken.

Looking over at the vast canyons

Looking over

It was getting pretty close to sunset so i had to think about how much time i had left and all that stuff. I wanted to do the syncline loop hike but it was 8.3 miles so i wouldn’t have time for it so i decided to go to the upheaval dome over look trail for sunset but before that i did have time to go to murphy point overlook which was 3.6 miles and quite easy in terms of elevation gain.

This hike presented a totally different landscape and vegetation was completely different on this trail which was quite interesting. The trail itself was lined with old tree branches which was something unique. I didn’t come across anyone else on this hike and it did give present some good views at the end of it but i was happy to be on this trail for the fact that there was no one else on it and the landscape was very different than what i had seen earlier.

Tree trunks lined up on murphy trail

Tree trunks lined up along the trail.

I was cutting it quite close to sunset and i didn’t want to be on the road when it was happening since i wanted to shoot something cool during that time. I had two more points of interest left and i hurried over to green river overlook and was completely disappointed, it was mainly because i was there at the wrong time of the day. This overlook faces west and the sun was about to set so the entire valley was pretty washed out in terms of the light. I didn’t even fire a single shot and then drove to upheaval dome as fast as i could.

This was going to be the my sunset trail and the first overlook is only a 15 minute hike but it gives you view of this crater which is a mystery but in terms of photography isn’t too exciting. So i moved on as fast as i could and the sun was pretty close to setting but then next overlook was another mile away and the trail was tricky to find at certain times.

I decided to be extra cautious and didn’t want to get lost at night, even though it was full moon night and i was carrying a headlamp i was in no mood to do some route finding. So i stopped midway and waited for sunset, i didn’t get the views i was hoping for but it was still nice.

Sunset over Le Sal Mountains

Sunset over Le Sal Mountains

I got back to the car when there was still some twilight out and i desperately wanted to do some night photography so on the way back i decided to head over to mesa arch. I wasn’t worried about this hike at night because i had done it earlier during the day and sort of scoped it out.

It was pretty wide and the trail is very easy to follow so i put on my headlamp and started the hike. I did take some pictures of the arch and also used my head lamp for some lighting effects but unfortunately focussing was an issue and none of the pictures were in focus. I later found out the trick to get proper focus during the night and it helped me the next day while doing night photography in arches.

It was a pretty long day but i was satisfied that i had covered most of the areas of the park though there is lot more to explore and see at canyonlands. I went to Island in the sky area but there in future i would love to drive all the way along the white rim road and camp out there plus there seem to be some really interesting hikes along this road too. Plus the other parts of the park, Needles and the Maze have so much more to offer so they would be fun to check out too.

I woke up early next morning and it was time to check out arches national park. While talking to one of the couple who was camping next to me, they mentioned that devil’s garden was a really fun 7+mile hike and something not to be missed so i kept that in mind. I went over to the visitor center to get more information about the hiking in the park but they didn’t have hiking map and i just got general information about things to do.

As soon as i entered the park the landscape caught my attention and i simply loved it. I stopped at the park avenue and courthouse towers view points briefly along with couple of other spots before reaching the trailhead for Devils Garden. I hadn’t seen a single arch so far but i was in love with this park, i knew that i have to come back here for more and just hike around.

Rock formations at Arches National Park, Utah

Rock formations at Arches National Park, Utah

I started the hike at almost 10.30 but i was in no hurry my plan was to just go with the flow and see as much as i could. I decided to take every side trail to all the arches and take as many pictures as i could. The more time i spent at this place, the more in love i fell with it. It is really hard to explain but i could easily wander for days in this area without getting bored, there was a certain element of calmness to it even though there were lots of people there.

The arches the i visited were tunnel, pine tree, landscape, navajo, partition, double O and private. all of these are on this loop with some having a small side trail, i even visited the rock formation called devils angel which isn’t too spectacular and can be avoided. I am not going to put all the pictures of arches in this post, they can be found on my photography site by clicking on any of the pictures.

While taking a side trail to Navajo arch, i saw someone carrying a tripod and was wondering why would one need a tripod in this broad daylight and sure enough when i got to the arch i took out my tripod as well 🙂

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch, had to use tripod for this shot.

Hiking along this trail i met some folks and asked them about capitol reef national park since it was something i could visit on the way back to LA and it was worth it according to them so i kept it as an option for tomorrow. As always i spent my sweet time taking pictures of the arches and other things on the way.

I tried to spend as much time as i could on this trail and just enjoy the landscape and by the time i got back it was almost 3pm. At this point i figured there was no way i could visit everything in the park and i was ok with it since i had such a great time at Devil’s garden.

Delicate arch was the place to be for sunset so before that i had enough time to see skyline and broken arches. I went over to sand dune arch and the place was packed with kids partly because there was lots of sand there was no way i was going to get a good clear shot of it and i was ok with it.

Initially i thought the hike to delicate arch was 3 miles one way and i planned my time accordingly but when i got to trailhead i found that it was 3 miles RT oh well nothing i could do about it now. This is by far the most popular trail and most folks want to be there for sunset which is something i would recommend to everyone who visits arches national park. If there is one thing that you have to do is to view the delicate arch during sunset.

Delicate arch during sunset

Delicate Arch during sunset.

I got to the arch there was a crowd of people just sitting in front of it and i soon found a spot and setup my tripod as well. It was still half an hour before sunset so i decided to get closer to the arch and shoot some pictures. It was hilarious to see everyone pose inside the arch to take pics and they were sort of doing for the whole crowd.

Sun started going down and the whole landscape changed with a golden glow on the arch as well as snow capped le sal mountains in the background. Once in a while someone stupid would try to get into the arch to take some pictures and everyone would start booing them, it was funny.

My camera battery died and i had a spare one which i thought was fully charged but to my surprise it didn’t have much charge left either, i would have been devastated not to be able to take any pictures of the spectacular show that mother nature was putting on for everyone but i decided to be conservative about it and it was all good. Now that i think about it my battery lasted for every one of my night shots later as well so maybe it wasn’t too bad.

I thought about staying at the arch for moon light but with my battery issues i didn’t think i would have had any success plus i was really pleased with the shots i got so i decided to head back and do some night photography on my way out of the park.

I stopped at the courthouse and park avenue viewpoint to do some night photography and was extremely happy with the results and specially with my new learned trick to keep everything in focus i was having good success. It was almost 9 and i was really hungry since i didn’t have a proper lunch so i decided to head to Moab so have some proper dinner and then it was time to crash.

Night time shot of Tower of Babel with The organ in the background.

Night time shot of Tower of Babel with The organ in the background.

Even though i didn’t visit all the areas of arches i was really happy with how the trip turned out to be and totally content with heading back home. I wanted to break down the drive by stopping in vegas for friday night but the hotels were crazy expensive so i decided to try my luck with couchsurfing plus there was option of visiting capitol reef too.

I woke up friday morning with nothing set in stone and i didn’t have any specific plans as to where i was going to spend the night. worst case scenario i would wing it all the way to LA in one shot, it would be pretty stressful but possible. At the last moment i did find a couch surfing host in vegas which was great so the plan was to crash at his place for the night and then head to LA on saturday morning.

I had kept the route for capitol reef in mind just in case i decided to take a detour and while on the road it was a last minute decision to do so. I was just planning on driving through capitol reef national park on the way to vegas but then i thought that why not spend the night there and camp as well if there was space available.

As i started getting to the park the landscape changed again and the fall colors were still present, it was really nice to see that. I stopped at the visitor center and asked if there was any space at the campgrounds and sure enough they had one spot available. I took that spot immediately and now it was time for me to see what i could do out here in half a day.

Fall Colors on way to Capitol Reef National Park

Fall Colors on way to Capitol Reef National Park

The previous day i had some issues with blisters so i had to patch that first before i could think of going on any hikes. there is a spot out here called sunset spot so i knew i wanted to be there for sunset and between then n now i had few hours to kill. I saw the hike for hickman bridge which looked interesting but when i got to the trailhead it was closed due to rock fall danger oh well.

I decided to take the 10 mile scenic drive which was interesting but then i got to the end of it i saw the capitol gorge road which is an unpaved road. I hadn’t thought about it earlier for some reason and i got excited by the looks of it. I drove ahead and it didn’t disappoint at all plus at the end of it there is a hike just over a mile long into the gorge which was also nice though the tanks were not that exciting.

Capitol Gorge drive

Driving into Capitol Gorge

I had to go back to camp to get my head lamp and there was still some time left before sunset so i decided to take pictures of the deer hanging around. They were just grazing at the campground without any care in the world and i have never come so close to them anytime so it was perfect opportunity to test out my 70-200 for wildlife photography. I would have been happier with a tripod but it was too much work plus i had to get going to sunset point.

Mule deer leaping over the fence.

Leaping Mule Deer

Headed off to sunset point which is 1/3 rd of a mile hike and set up my tripod, the sunset was nice and the mountains got a really nice golden glow but unlike the arch there wasn’t any specific feature that i wanted to take pictures of but it was still nice.

Got back to camp and it was time for dinner and after that i had already decided to hike the 1.5 mile long fremont river trail which started from the campground. The moon had risen and i didn’t need my head lamp but the trail was covered with trees so i had to use my headlamp more than i wanted to. I took some pictures and went further along the trail but something didn’t feel right. I was spooked for the first time while hiking alone and going further along on the trail by myself didn’t seem like a good idea so i decided to turn around. I did take some pictures of the campground before heading back to bed and while doing so i met someone who mentioned about mountain lions in the area so my decision to turn back was definitely a good one.

campground at capitol reef national park

Campground in Full Moon

Next day morning i packed up and it was time for me to head back to LA, i wasn’t interested in stopping anywhere for one more night and having to deal with the vegas traffic on sunday so i was going to drive to LA in one day. It was around 10pm that i reached LA.

Overall it was a wonderful trip and i was glad that i decided to stop at Capitol Reef national park. One of the things about traveling solo is that i could do whatever i wanted and whenever i wanted. It won’t be my last time visiting these wonderful parks for sure and there is so much more to explore and see specially at canyonlands. Heck i would go back just to see another sunset at Delicate arch, it was simply magical.

5 comments for “Utah Road Trip

  1. snowpatrol
    June 10, 2014 at 3:08 am

    Thanks for sharing. You have covered a lot more trials in Canyonlands/Arches. There is a lot to see for first time visitors, and I still have to go back in fall for Delicate Arch; btw, the pic of the delicate arch is spectacular.

    • admin
      June 10, 2014 at 4:00 am

      Thank you, There is lot more to cover and I would love to go back. I am going to be shameless and let you know that the picture is available to purchase from my site 🙂

      • snowpatrol
        June 13, 2014 at 12:27 am

        haha. I might plan to hike the delicate arch sometime and try to get a good pic of it, else will get one of yours, thanks.

        • admin
          June 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm

          Plan it during Sunset to get the best possible shot, maybe try some night photography too.

          • snowpatrol
            June 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm

            Thanks for the inputs. I am an amateur traveler/photographer/artist. Will have to get my photo gear ready first. May be this fall..

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