Over millions of years, geologic forces conspired to carve out a dramatic landscape of canyons, domes and hoodoos across the Western United States. Wind, water and time worked together to sculpt these incredible rock formations, many of which are situated in five national parks in the US state of Utah, known collectively as Utah’s Mighty Five: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.
The five parks, which are all situated within about a five-hundred-mile [804 km] radius of each other, are an ideal destination for lovers of nature and adventure. Collectively, they encompass thousands of square miles of hiking trails, spectacular vistas, and unique features, like the famous Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, and the intricately carved hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park. No matter where you go or what you do, you will almost certainly be amazed by the magnitude of your surroundings, and be inspired to explore as much as you possibly can.
Although much of Utah’s landscape can seem barren and lifeless, it is in fact home to a rich diversity of plant and animal species, including large mammals, like bighorn sheep and puma, and bats that emerge at night. There is also evidence of the Native American tribes that lived in this part of the world thousands of years ago, most famously in the form of petroglyphs. At Canyonlands National Park, for example, there is a famous site known as Newspaper Rock, where you can see carvings of humans and animals made over two thousand years ago.
NATURE AND ADVENTURE
The state of Utah in the American midwest is only around 250 miles [402 km] wide, but it contains five national parks, each very different. Known as the Mighty Five, they boast some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all America, and visitors travel from far and wide to explore and experience them. To find out more, Speak Up contacted Utah Tour Guide Association president Ann Evans. We began by asking her what makes Utah’s parks so special.
Ann Evans (American accent): We have the gorgeous red rock. The Colorado Plateau was raised about fourteen million years ago, and then, over time, we’ve had all the sandstone erosion causing the arches and the canyons and the mazes and just the beautiful sites that you see, that you don’t get in a lot of other areas of the country.
OFF THE ROAD
The best way to experience the parks is actually on foot, says Evans.
Ann Evans: I think getting out into the backcountry is the best because you can see a lot from the road but there is so much more that you can’t see from the road. Take Capitol Reef [National Park], for example, they have this wonderful natural bridge that is a mile hike into the backcountry, and you’d never see it from the road. Or in Arches [National Park], if you see Landscape Arch, which is the fourth largest arch in the world, you can’t see that from the road. You can only see that from hiking back into the backcountry.
And there are hikes for people of different levels of fitness, as she explains.
Ann Evans: Most of these [hikes] are a mile to two miles in and back. So if you’re moderately fit at all, you can make it. A lot of people hike up to a Delicate Arch in Moab, in Arches [National Park] and it’s a little bit of a strenuous hike, but my daughter did it when she was four years old, so anybody can do it. The parks are wonderful, but there are some features you don’t want to miss, like Delicate Arch or Hickman Bridge. So, I think the best way is to see it with a guide.
We then asked Evans to give us her top picks for places to visit in the Mighty Five.
Ann Evans: Definitely Delicate Arch in Arches [National Park], because that is kind of the iconic Utah symbol. So that would be my number one. Number two would be the Zion Narrows: you walk up Zion Canyon, at the very top, and then the rest of the way you’re hiking through water in these incredible slot canyons. You can’t have that experience hardly anywhere else. And gosh, a third one would be hiking down into Bryce Canyon, doing the Queen’s Garden Navajo Loop. That is an incredible hike because you’re looking at the hoodoos from the top, and then you get down to the bottom and you’re looking up, which is a whole different experience.