Road trip to Utah reveals astounding natural beauty
ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah – The best vehicle from which to see Zion National Park is a convertible. Unless it’s raining, a roof on your car will just get in the way.
During a Utah rock-climbing trip at the end of March, I drove Zion’s scenic loop for the first time. With massive rock formations looming over my rental car, I had to lean over the steering wheel to see them. Eyes pointing skyward, car veering slowly into oncoming traffic, I mumbled in disbelief, “Absolutely amazing.”
I had arrived the night before, after the long drive from Carson City. My friends said to find the message board at the main visitor’s center for the location of our camp.
There was no such thing. Jacked up on energy drinks and Red Vines, I jogged around the buildings with a headlamp. Actually I already knew where they were – they had also left a phone message. But I was too excited to go straight to the quiet camp. When I awoke along the Virgin River the next morning I was dumbfounded by the astronomical features and divine natural beauty. I couldn’t believe we were allowed to camp there.
During my first rock climb of the season, out-of-practice and hauling a layer of winter fat, my arms were failing 40 feet up. It was a “lay back” where you have to lean to one side and grip a vertical edge. My legs started doing the sewing machine – jiggling uncontrollably as they max out. Sweaty hands slipped. I was 6 feet above my last piece of protection. I was so jazzed when I reached the top I couldn’t help but shout a barbaric “YAALP!”
Back on the ground I looked around and saw our climb went about one-fifth of the way up the smallest rock visible in any direction. Humbling.
After Zion we headed for Moab in east-central Utah.
On our way there we saw a morphing brown cloud on the horizon. As we approached, muddy tumble weeds rolled onto the highway. At first it was fun to try and hit them. As we went into the cloud there were so many we couldn’t avoid them. Sprinkling rain drops grew to the size of bouncy balls. We could only see 30 feet. Thank heavens we weren’t hiking or cycling. Splattered with sandy mud, tumble weeds caught in our roof rack, we rolled on to Moab.
The rapidly growing town is base camp for off-highway vehicle users and mountain bikers, but it’s also popular with rock climbers. We made our way to a place called Indian Creek. “I.C.,” as rock rats call it, is a Mecca for crack climbers.
Watching other climbers do a 130-foot crack rated “5.9” (reasonably difficult), I figured we could do it, too. My friends thought we should start with something easier. They suggested I lead a 5.7 (pretty easy) crack called “The Warm Up.” I couldn’t fit my hands into the narrow, vertical crack. Halfway up, shaking, sweating and cursing, I was trying to clip my rope into a camming device (a piece of rock climbing equipment) when I fell. A lower cam caught me. I was spent. A friend had to finish the climb.
“I told you guys we should have done that 130-footer,” I joked. “This one was cake!”
We camped for free among pines surrounded by astounding beauty. Above us were the infamous Bridger Jack Spires, featured in a recent issue of Climbing Magazine. Two men wrote about their experience climbing several of the spires in one day. Climbing a single one was far beyond my reach.
At the other end of Indian Creek’s long canyon is a petroglyph site called Newspaper Rock. It’s coated with pictures of animals, men on horseback and mystifying figures. On the way there you are dwarfed by more looming rock spires. They are bigger than they look. It’s hard to see their summits from your car – unless, of course, you have a convertible.
– Karl Horeis is a reporter for the Nevada Appeal in Carson City