BY MARIANNE EDWARDS
On many official roadmaps and tourist brochures, Utah! is spelled just that way ? with an exclamation point! And appropriately so ? in southern Utah you?ll find what I believe is the most spectacular scenery in the southwest.
Personally, after numerous encounters, now just hearing the word ? ?Utah!? ? makes my skin tingle, my heart race, awakens butterflies in my stomach, and evokes a longing in me, much the same as if someone had mentioned the name of a secret lover. I?d like to share with you some of the details of my love affair with Utah.
Although you could spend more than a lifetime exploring southern Utah, a month-long rendezvous always satisfies me and would give anyone a good taste of the best the state has to offer. Over the past 10 years, Randy and I have poked around Utah for a month at a time on four different occasions. We keep going back because I fell in love with the place!
On our most recent trip we shared a few beers with a couple of amateur photographers from the eastern states. It was these young women who put into words for me one of the main reasons I?m so attracted to this part of the continent: In other areas of North America, there may be mountains and other interesting formations but usually green growth of some form covers the earth. In Utah, the earth?s geology and texture lies exposed. No matter if you?re a scientist, photographer, hiker, or ATV enthusiast, you will appreciate seeing and experiencing this rare naked glimpse of the big rock we call Earth ? our home.
Wilderness is not a luxury
but a necessity of the human spirit. – Edward Abbey
Luckily for us, much of scenic southern Utah has been protected by state and federal land agencies. This ensures that it will remain as wild and natural as possible and a special treat for those who enjoy adventure, hiking, and scenic RV boondocking.
Southeast Utah?s Red Rock wilderness is so untamed and wild that the area around the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers was the last to be mapped in the lower 48 United States.
The few paved roads that run across southern Utah are just enough to allow access to the federal and state parks. The rougher dirt roads that intersect with the highways always tempt me, at least for a few miles, into the interior areas. But, if boondocking in the wilderness doesn?t appeal to you, there are campground options. However, don?t expect to find full service hook-ups. Despite having the highest concentration of National Parks in one state, RV resorts and full service campgrounds are scarce in southern Utah.
Every national and state park in Utah is unique and spectacular. There is a fairly compact, circular route ? with stops at Glen Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Zion, Cedar Breaks, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Goblin Valley, Arches, Canyonlands, and Natural Bridges parks ? that is the most rewarding scenic route we?ve ever driven in North America.
While Zion, Arches, and Bryce Canyon are the busiest and most popular, we found the other parks to be much quieter even in peak season. Southern Utah is a huge area and, for its size, there are very few people ? tourists or residents. I love this privacy!
Off the beaten track
Every love affair contains an element of secrecy and surprise. In southern Utah there?s no shortage of surprises for those willing to venture just a little off the beaten track. Wahweep Hoodoos and Willis Creek Slot Canyon, both in Escalante National Monument, are just two examples of the lesser known but very accessible attractions we?ve discovered that few people seem to know about.
If camping outside the range of a cellphone signal doesn?t sound adventurous enough, how about getting lost in an area of sandstone fins in Arches? Fiery Furnace, or in the Maze district of Canyonlands National Park? Now, add the fact that there is no drinking water ? none! ? for miles and miles. Oh, and when water does arrive (via rain), it could kill you if you happen to be hiking in a slot canyon. Yes, there?s potential for danger here. Normally, I don?t seek it out but, I feel braver and more willing to take risks when I?m in Utah than when I am home in Ontario.
As a result, I?ve conquered a few fears in southern Utah. One example is the hike to Angel?s Landing in Zion National Park. The strenuous trail culminates with a section that crosses a narrow precipice and a steep climb that hugs the side of a cliff face. Chain rope railings are all that protect you from a fall to certain death. To show how much bolder I have become over time, I did this hike twice ? once on very nervous, wobbly legs in 2000, the first year we began our adventure lifestyle, and again in 2006 when I had become a much more confident hiker. This five-mile (eight-kilometre) hike is one of the most popular in the entire National Park system ? proof that many people like being challenged to conquer their fears.
A feeling of belonging
Sometime, love just can?t be explained. Yet, when you discover it, you know you have finally found the place where you truly belong. Although it is wild and untamed, with a harsh environment, and far from modern conveniences, when I?m camped in my favourite free boondocking sites in southern Utah, I feel a comfort that I have not found in many other places ? the kind that has me saying, ?To heck with what tomorrow brings or what the world may think, I belong here. I?ll stay just one more night.?
When not on the road, Marianne Edwards and her spouse, Randy, make their home in southern Ontario. Marianne is the author of a series of guidebooks:
The Frugal Shunpiker?s Guides To RV Boondocking and can be reached at