Utah Southwest - For The Advance Travelers

I felt I need a vacation .... 

End of Dec 2020, 9-days trip to my favorite area in the US: Southwest Utah.

It was one of the most amazing trips I have ever did!

Some of the places are fulfilling dreams I have since our first Phoenix Arizona relocation 23 years ago ....

This time I traveled alone and planned a tight schedule combining a jeep off-road trip in the deserts with hiking to interesting places. I focus on the area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I slept in the back of my car (4Runner) except for one night when I hiked overnight and slept in a tent.

I wanted to get to place I hadn’t been to before. Most of the visited places are not in the main tourist list so they are more secluded and less crowded.

You can’t be in Utah southwest and not visit Zion and Bryce, so I also visit them on my way.

The trip in numbers: October 2020, 9 days, 2300 miles, 11 parks, sleeping in 12 f, 1 flat tire, a lot of hikes, many pictures, ...


Few related blogs:

Places I visited in this specific trip:

Bishop (CA)

Valley of Fire (SP NV)

Gold Butte National Monument (NV)

Little Finland (NV)

Zion NP  (UT)

Coral Pink Sand Dunes (SP UT)

White Pocket (AZ)

Buckskin Gulch (AZ)

Alstrom Point, Paria Box  (UT)

Lower Hackberry Canyon  (UT)

Cottonwood Narrows  (UT)

Grosvenor Arch  (UT)

Devils Garden  (UT)

Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyon  (UT)

Reflection Canyon  (UT)

Bryce NP (UT)

Red Rock Canyon (SP NV)

Below is detailed day by day trip blog.

All the visited places mentioned below have their detailed separated blog post (with many more pictures), just follow the link at the location name.

Day 1:

I started on Friday afternoon covering some miles of the long way from the Bay area to Utah.

My First stop on the way was at Bishop CA, at following early morning before sunrise I went to Bishop North Lake to see the last Aspen yellow leaf falling. 2-3 week earlier and all was yellow, this time I came late and most of the trees were already naked… I know what I’m going to do next year 😊



Day 2:

I enjoy the cold morning lakes reflection and head east to Vegas…

From Bishop (CA) I crossed the vast Nevada desert heading east to Vegas, stopping only for refuel.

My next destination was Valley of  Fire State Park (NV), just 1 hr north of Vegas.

This is very nice park with red color rock formation. In order to avoid the crowd, I did 2 hr hike into the canyon near Petroglyph Canyon.

Later I kept driving the main park road and stop at Park #3, I hiked 1 mile to the Fire Wave (do not confuse this with the Wave in Utah). A very nice rock with twisted red and white layers, after that I took some sunset and night pictures (+short time-lapse movie).

From here I drove north at night for 2 hr to my night location, far inside Gold Butte National Monument.


Day 3:

Third day morning was dedicated exploring the remote and unknown Little Finland section that is located at the heart of Gold Butte National Monument desert.

1 hr drive on dirt roads and dry river-bed off-road trails will take you to this unique place. In small section of the red-rock mountain, years of erosion created delicate red fins formations. I hiked here for 2 hr, discovering and exploring the location and enjoying the warm sun.

From there I drove to a nearby location and hiked the interesting Seven Keyholes slot canyon (nice short canyon and some petroglyph), on the way out I saw the Devils Throat sinkhole.

Overall half day visit, from there I headed up to Zion NP.

I arrived at the afternoon to the crowded Zion NP, after standing in-line I took the shuttle bus all the way to the last stop and did 3 hr walk at the Narrows canyon. This considered to be one of the best hikes in the US, you are walking in a narrow deep canyon where the Virgin river cold water covering the trail. At the hike you are crossing the river from bank to bank, most of the time this is knee high but, in some points, it can reach also waist high so come prepared.

During late afternoon you will see fewer other visitors, during mid-day it can be crowded with hundreds of other hikers in the narrow canyon.

When finished my visit it was already late, I took the shuttle back to the visitor center than headed to my night campsite, one hr drive away at Sand Dunes SP near Kanab.


Day 4:

The fourth day was an adventure....

The day started before sunrise after a cold stormy night (20f = -7c), I want to catch the first sunlight on the pink sand dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

It was freezing called out there, but I was the only one in the dunes, so it was fun and walking in the deep sand make me warmer. Later 4 girls came out to the dunes to do some sand-boarding Instagram pictures…

After the sunlight hit the dunes, I took my pictures and went off to my next destination.

Driving through Grand Canyon north rim road that was covered with snow from the night storm.

I headed to my next destination and one of the trip highlights: White Pocket Arizona.

A unique place hidden remotely in the heart of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Instead of following the map as I usually do I follow google map driving instructions, they took me to the wrong dirt road in the wilderness, with deep sandy road and snow, after 10 miles I failed to connect to the right road so I had to turn around, go back to the main trail down in the valley.

Only then I start the off-road 20 miles drive, after another 1 hr drive in the sandy road I reach my destination: The amazing White Pocket.

Only few people where there, relatively not a large place but I spend 2 hr exploring the location, the rock formation view was no less than amazing.

I went out from the desert at sunset and found a place to park for the night, that night it was even colder than the day before, 12f (-11c), nothing that 3 layers of shirts and good sleeping bag can’t handle 😊


Day 5:

The fifth day started with a participating in a BLM lottery event, trying to get permit to visit “the wave”, probably the most iconic wave-shape rocks.

This happened in Kanab Utah and I did not win (only 10 people a day out of 170 people that were there).

After resupply and refuel I went to the longest slot canyon in America: Buckskin Gulch.

Last time I visited this canyon was 21 years ago and the current hike was as good as last time.

This is VERY long, narrow, deep slot canyon where the river finds its way to cut through the red sandstone rock plateau on it 60 miles journey all the way to the Colorado river.

At the narrow canyon, some sections are shoulder wide, you are walking in darkness and the wall closing on you from above, at other wider sections you see the canyon walls all the way up.

Depending on the time, sun location and direction of the canyon you can get sunlight at the bottom of the canyon, lightening the red rock in nice colors.

This visit the canyon was completely dry, but I still remember the feeling of crossing the cold muddy sections filled with water up to your wrist from last time.

There were many other people in the canyon when I started the hike but as I went deeper into the canyon I saw less and less people.

After 6 hr fast-past hiking (in-and-out) I was back in my car, this time the parking lot was almost full (I passed on my way out many of the hikers going in).


From here I headed to Alstrom Point, the most beautiful viewing point over Lake Powell (Glen Canyon NP).

This is a long 1.5 hr off-road drive, most in good condition dirt roads except the last few miles that are crossing shallow sands and unmarked section over bare rock (must have 4x4).

The view was amazing.

Arriving just before sunset, parked right on the edge of the cliff, looking down to the few houseboats in the lake and the red mountains far away from the other side.

The almost full-mooriseses above the mountains in the east, lighten the lake with glowing silver-white light, excellent view for my dinner.

Woke up just before sunrise, enjoy the first light coming from the east and once sun was high in the sky, I headed back to the hwy.


Day 6:

This day was more like a road trip combined with hikes.

From hwy 89 I took the Cottonwood Canyon unpaved road, covering the lower section of Grand Staircase-Escalante to the north section near the town of Cannonville. I chose to take an off-road that has interesting hikes along the way. It was nice to drive and cross the desert, hike some nice dry canyons + visit the impressive GrosvenorArch.

I ended the day at DevilsGarden (Escalante), a nice place with many standing rock formations, it was much warmer this evening and I stayed there until sunset, then went to find a nearby place to park for the night.


Day 7:

It was a long day….

Starting before sunrise, a short visit at the Devils Garden.

From here I keep driving deep into the desert and arrived at Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyon trail head parking, it was still early morning so only few cars were already there, good indication for few other hikers at the canyon.

The hike is not so difficult (and it was not hot) and after 1.5 miles in the open desert you reach the main dry river, right there you have 2 narrow canyons to explore.

Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons are probably one of the most beautiful short canyons I ever visited, very narrow passages carving their way in the red-rock formation. Short sections are so narrow that you must take off your backpack and squeeze yourself forward. When I was there, both canyons were completely dry without any water pools.

The canyon section hike is not so long and because I was almost alone there it went fast, when you have many people in the narrow canyon this can take a much longer time.

From here I hiked up, back to the parking lot, and start the ride east deeper into the desert, after additional 30 miles of bumpy ride I arrived at Reflection Point trail head.

Here, 51 miles away from the nearest road, I get organized for an overnight hiking trip.

I took enough water for 2 days, a lot of warm clothes for the night, food for 2 days and a satellite GPS text-phone.

It was already 1pm and I wanted to be at Reflection Point as early as I can, so I walked very fast without any breaks. The 8 miles hike does not look difficult at first, but it is going down and up all the time (crossing small dry riverbeds) and I walk very fast. After less than 2 hr I finished the first 6 miles section of the trail, from here star the second trail section.

Another 2 miles of hiking over open rocky surface without any trail or marking to follow, you need to know exactly where you are heading because you can easily get yourself lost.

After less than an hour and encounter with 2 large bighorn sheep (manage to catch some nice pictures) I finally arrived to the viewing point, and what a view it is !!!

Amazing deep twisted canyon carving the pink sandstone, flooded by Lake Powell water with 2 towering mountains in the middle.

The sun was already starting to go down on my back, I found a place for the night on the hilltop and set my tent, I just sat there and enjoy the moment.

I was the only one there for the night, alone without anyone near for miles.

At sunset the almost full moon starts to rise from the east, as it got darker and the moon higher in the sky the water below became silver glowing from the moon reflected light.

For me this place, spending here the afternoon & night was a magical experience, the climax of this trip.

It just couldn’t get better.


Day 8:

Waking up at 5:30 am after a good night sleep, to my surprise it was a relatively hot that night, so I was not freezing as I expected.

At 7 am the sun starts to rise at the east with first sunlight hitting the view, after taking some pictures I started to hike back to the car.

Although this time the navigation at the rocky section was easier the way back to the car was feeling a lot longer, I was tired.

I arrived my car unpacked my gear and start the long 50 miles drive back to the main road.

After 30 min drive, I stopped to help 2 young women to replace their rental pickup-car flat tire, it took me some time to understand where the tools are and how to unplug the spare tire from underneath the car. They asked me if flat tire happen a lot and I answered that “no”…..

After 1 hr drive I had a flat tire, what a bummer.

After 30 min I manage to replace my tire and keep driving, this time much slower… when I arrived at the main road it was already afternoon.

I decided that I do not want to drive around without spare tire, rowing the epic ending of this trip so I probably need to start getting back home.

Drove back west planning to get the last daylights and sunset moments and the rising of a full moon at Bryce NP.

I went to Brice sunset viewpoint and waited for the sunset; the moon rises on the far east and was very beautiful.

I left the park at 7pm, looked at google map that say 12+ hr to home and decided to start the ride.

I stopped after 3 hr on the side of hwy 15, 1 hr north of Las Vegas, parked the car under large roadside billboard, eat something and went to sleep.


Day 9:

Early morning the next day I manage to take some nice picture of the moon setting down in the west.

For my last day I decided to stop on the way at Red Rock Canyon Park right outside Las Vegas west.

A nice local park with a scenic loop drive. I did not have any time to do real hike, so I just stopped at viewing points.

Once I finished the park loop, I headed straight home, 8 hr of relaxed American hwy drive. Going west on hwy 15 all the way to Barstow, taking 58 west to Bakersfield and the last long stretch on hwy 5 north. Arriving home at 6pm

Final notes:

It was a wonderful trip, an intense past packed with activities, I was able to cover a lot of my original planed wish-list.

Many good memories that will stay with me for long time.

Now I can start planning the next trip 😊