Sometimes I get so caught up in my dreams of far off places that I forget what amazing things are on my very doorstep! Utah has such a striking landscape — from the forested mountains, to the red rock deserts, to the bleached white salt flats… Kirk and I have decided that we need to take more advantage of this and share these places with Ingrid and Lars. Whenever we can, we plan out a Saturday adventure to somewhere nearby.
We’re also trying to take little weekend trips when we can. This summer, we headed to Southern Utah to explore Canyonlands and more with our family and a visiting friend… Unfortunately, there was a huge heat wave while we were there. That, combined with the fact that we had our two small kids in tow, meant the normal recreational activity of tourists to the area — hiking — wasn’t really an option. We still had so much fun, though, and I highly recommend a visit if you haven’t already been. Keep reading to see the places we discovered…
Island in the Sky, Canyonlands
A giant sandstone mesa rises 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, forming the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. The turnoff for this area is about 10 miles north of Moab. As you arrive on the Mesa, there is a park station with guides, maps and trinkets to buy, water, and a video to watch. We took a pit stop there and then followed the road that loops along the mesa, getting out at several lookout points. The views were absolutely spectacular!
About an hour south of Moab, there’s a fascinating petroglyph site called Newspaper Rock. It’s easy to access, right off the road. Earliest drawings date back to the ancient Puebloan people, who lived in the area from about 100 B.C. to 1540 A.D. There are also more recent drawings from the Ute people who still live in the area. We played a “Where’s Waldo” type game with the kids to get them to find drawings of certain animals on the wall.
Needles, Canyonlands National Park
If you continue on highway 211 past Newspaper Rock, you’ll come out into a green valley floor, surrounded by finger like red rock canyons. As we were driving through, we realized that this is what we saw when we were looking down from the mesa of Island in the Sky! The highway dead ends in the Needles district of Canyonlands, which I’ve heard is a great place for long hikes and overnights. Again, because of the heat, we decided not to hike. But we found a beautiful, other-worldly spot to stop for a picnic.
Lloyd’s Lake & Ken’s Lake, Monticello & Moab
Apparently, lakes in this area are all named after your uncle. Lloyd’s Lake is just outside of Monticello and Ken’s Lake is near Moab. Both are free, uncrowded, and refreshingly cool in the heat of the day. But they’re both man-made lakes with the kind of sticky mud that makes it hard to walk and is nearly impossible to clean off afterwards. So, I’d say these places are good in a pinch when you need a place to swim and don’t have many options. Next time, I’m going to try and stay in a place with a pool.
Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum, Blanding
A small but impressive museum full of relics found in ancient Puebloan sites. There is an ancient village behind the museum that you can walk through. Our favorite part was climbing down a ladder into one of the cool underground rooms.
San Juan Theater, Blanding
After a day in the heat, nothing sounds better to me than sitting in an air conditioned movie theater. This one screen venue is full of small town charm. We went on a Friday night, and it seemed like everyone from the town had come out to see the new release for that week. There was a friendly, festive atmosphere that continued throughout and even after the movie. I hadn’t had that kind of a movie experience in a long time.
The Patio Drive-In, Blanding
Burgers, fries, and shakes done right in a simple, hole in the wall establishment. Best food we had in the area.
Blue Mountain Trading Post
Filled with beautiful jewelry, rugs, and more made by Native Americans of the Four Corners area.
We drove this road on our way back to Northern Utah from Blanding, and were surprised at how gorgeous, yet uncrowded, it was. Cyclists seem to have this figured out, because despite the heat, there were more bicycles than cars on the road. Make sure you have plenty of gas, water, and food as there isn’t much in the way of services along this stretch.
Also on the way back to Northern Utah, we stopped at Goblin Valley. This place makes you feel like you’re on Mars, and was actually used as a location in Galaxy Quest. We had so much fun exploring and wandering among the goblin-like red rock formations. If it hadn’t been so hot, the kids would have happily played for hours.
We’ll be back
We really only scratched the surface of the amazing-ness that is Southern Utah with this trip. We loved it so much we want to make it a yearly tradition to return — this time in the spring or fall, though, so we won’t have to deal with the extreme heat of summer.
Do you have some favorite spots in Southern Utah? Please share! – Eva
Image Credits: Family photo by Tovalisa Dunker. All others by Eva Jorgensen.