I wasn’t sure what to expect when planning my visit to Utah. Mountains, sure. Maybe some fields? Deserts? But nothing too out of the ordinary, certainly.
As it turns out, Utah is full of surprises.
My eastern entrance into Utah led me straight through Moab at sunset, which felt like a human voyage to Mars. From a distance, the stony mesas seemed to point the way toward the Mad Max-esque desert town, and as I got closer, they closed in on the single, 30-mile road leading straight ahead, perfectly framing the La Sal Mountains up ahead. It seemed like a grand entrance into a desert kingdom, all perfectly backlit by a red glowing sun.
I found a quiet spot to sleep for the night and woke up early the next day to explore Arches National Park. By midday, the temperature had climbed to a sweltering 100º, and from there, it only got hotter. Though a bit oppressive, the hot and dry weather at Arches seemed fitting for my first full day of desert exploration. After hours of traversing sandy pathways leading to the most incredible canyons and natural arches, I made my way to the Windows Loop and the Double Arch, a massive dome of red rock that seemed too architecturally perfect to be an environmental coincidence. Needless to say, after day one in Utah, I was hooked.
Later in the week, I drove to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah, where I set off on the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trail that winds into the canyon hoodoos (tall, skinny rock formations jutting up from the depths of the gully). There, I crossed paths with a few other hikers who were also roadtripping the United States to celebrate their post-pandemic freedom, one who had just retired and another who had just graduated college. We chatted about our plans, snapped some photos, climbed back to the entrance, and exchanged information to stay in touch. I’ve grown to love the brief and fleeting friendships of quick acquaintances I’ve made along the way—from gas station clerks and laundromat regulars to fellow hikers on faraway trails.
My last major stop in Utah was a grand finale if there ever was one. Zion—the majestic, mountainous, beating heart of southern Utah. Apart from the inherent magic of the Narrows trail through the Virgin River and the looming cliffs glowing a brilliant red and golden-orange, my day in Zion seemed predestined in some way. Everything just clicked. I was meant to be there, and I knew it at every turn.
I chose to take off on my great American road trip to rekindle the spark of adventure that I first really noticed when traveling through Italy. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude while riding back from every day trip in our rental van, peering out of my window at some of the most incredible landscapes I had ever seen. Meanwhile, I was planning trip after trip in my head, eager to keep that flame alive and to never stop exploring.
One of those adventures I dreamed of on the windy roads of southern Italy was the cross-country trip I’m taking now. It’s been four years since I felt as carefree and as stupidly happy as I was during that summer in Italy. Eventually, the Italy daydreams were put on hold as COVID tightened its grip on everyday life and put travel on the backburner. But for a quick moment on the Zion shuttle, I felt that tightening in my chest, that unexplainable excitement, a hopefulness, a moment of joy untainted by anything else. I started planning again. I glanced out the window and was once again rendered speechless by the landmarks zooming by as I made my exit through the park at sunset.
It feels so good to get the travel bug back, and I intend to keep chasing it.