Travel Writing Awards 2008

By Wlliam Young

With the strong pound, you can visit the amazing Red Rock State where countless cowboy films were shot.  You don’t have to be good, bad or ugly to take advantage of the state of Utah.
The real cowboys have been absent for decades, but the scenery is still as beautiful.  As you fly into Salt Lake City you get a glimpse of the other-worldly nature of this State.  Mountains to the North and a
city cradled in this inhospitable basin complete with salt lakes. 
Unfortunately the States isn’t known for it’s public transport, but once you are behind the wheel of a hire car you’re every need is catered for.  From drive through cash machines to drive through National Parks you’re set!

With hire keys in hand you can be forgiven for having a Thelma and Louise moment once you hit the open road.  There are two ways to tackle a trip to Utah.  You can take in the amazing landscape on offer from the comfort of your air conditioned car.  If you’re happy to break more of a sweat epic days of pedalling/hiking await.  You can even mix both options. 
If you love outdoor adventure sports you’ll be heading straight to Moab, made famous by ‘slickrock’.  This unique surface feels like sandpaper to the touch and a mountain bike tyre grips to it with amazing effect; you’ll be riding up gradients you thought unrideable.
The most famous trail is the namesake of this geological phenomenon, ‘Slickrock’.  Strangely the tracks are almost 90% on rock in a desert setting; so it is incredibly easy to lose your bearings without trees to keep you on the trail.  The solution is that the tracks are marked by white lines painted directly on to the rock, so you can follow the loops without the need of a compass!  As one of the most iconic riding areas in North America the trails are popular, meaning you’ll see a few other people.  You can camp right beside the trailhead for a small fee.  This allows you to ride the practise loop in the early evening while there’s still light, but mild temperatures as you pedal to the trail from your campsite.  With daytime temperatures getting into the thirties you need to drink constantly and try to avoid the heat of the day.  You can take refuge from the baking heat by riding early in the morning and then enjoying the air conditioning in your car as you drive to your next trailhead.  This is the sort of country that you could imagine seeing a road runner whizzing past with Wylie Coyote hot on it’s tail!
There are five National Parks in Southern Utah.  Arches is typical of many American National Parks, it is designed to be driven through.  You can take in the best natural sights from you car.  You will also struggle with the heat hopping in and out of an air conditioned car.  Delicate Arch is the well known symbol of Utah, you’ll soon learn to recognise it on local number plates.  This is worth the one hour roundtrip walk at the end of the day to see sunset.  Remember to take a torch and a warm jersey and your camera to enjoy the sunset.
Near the Southern edge of Utah lies Zion National Park; the States’ first National Park roughly 600km down the road from Moab.  Zion is a canyon with steep sandstone cliffs popular with big wall rock climbers, whom you can sometimes spot as small dots high up on the vast rock face. 

You’ll need to leave your car at the park gates, as the free shuttle bus will take you along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, stopping off at the trail heads along the way.  A return trip takes 90 minutes.  It’s a funny sort of place with wild turkey running around and deer resting in thickets.  The canyon floor is home to a small river and enjoys shade during the day.  The cool valley is a refuge for hikers as many of the trails are protected by shade.

‘Weeping Rock’ is one such 40 minute hike.  The base of the waterfall is reached along a path with a gentle incline ending at an alcove.  The water seeps out of the rock to support a hanging garden.  It’s the shortest walk in the park and a great one to start with as you get your bearings.  ‘Angels Landing’ is another hike, but the  trail is steep and narrows with the top third turning into an exposed scramble.  The views at the top are great and you can look back down on the shuttle that dropped you off a few hours ago at the canyon floor.

It’s advisable to book your camp site in advance as this is a popular park.  Thesites down by the river are perfect if you’re pitching a tent and have fire pits to use if you’ve brought your own wood.  It’s always interesting to see people’s camping set ups.  You go from cyclists who travel light through necessity to the RV’s(recreational vehicle).  Fellow campers are usually very friendly and there is enough space to enjoy this very accessible National Park.

There is one time to avoid Utah and that’s summer.  With the average high sitting at 34 to 36 degrees in August it is better to visit in September/October or March through May.  This is of course unless your passion is skiing, with the winter promising it’s own amazing outdoor pursuits in this beautiful American State! 

Top Tip:
Outdoor gear is great value in the States, so be ready for a bargain

Before go load up your iPod with:
Grath Brooks – Greatest hits
Brilly Bragg and Wilco

Movies shot in Utah:
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid