I always viewed the US as a safe place to travel, perhaps too safe in comparison to the wilds of trekking in Patagonia, cycling in China, hiking the Inca Trail or sailing down the Nile. However, I was intrigued by the iconic Route 66, black bears and the beautiful extremes of the US national parks. It was these same national parks which first brought me to America and I wasn’t disappointed. Especially with the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and 3 of Utah’s big-hitters (Zion, Bryce and Arches) on the cards.
Travelling in America
Very early on, the vastness and variety of landscapes, people, and incredible scenery challenged my preconceptions about travelling in America. I suppose my views of the US were a mix of stereotypes created by media and movies over the years. It is fair to say I was completely wrong in my generalizations.
It’s funny how we create expectations in our own minds which can be so far from the truth.
After arriving and with my walking shoes on, I was pleased to find each national park offered a standard, moderate and challenging trail option to suit my mood. Never one to shy away from a hard-core hike I delved as deep as I could, surprised by the sheer amount of wildlife I spotted against incredible landscape backdrops.
First I climbed to the peak of Angels Landing in Zion National Park for exceptional 360 degree views of the surrounding area, and stopped here for lunch to watch Turkey Vultures swoop through the air, riding wind currents. I explored the cascading valley at Bryce National Park with its blood red, snow-capped ornate hoodoos. Rising from the ground and carved through time, natural erosion and the wild elements have left this area like nothing I’d seen before and walking into the depths of the valley was like landing on the moon.
Based out of Moab for three days, I marvelled at the sandstone rock formations within Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Carved naturally from the rock face, these sometimes free-standing structures cascade throughout the park, revealing both the destructive and brilliant side to nature. I recommend this park to every keen traveller!
Next I followed Forrest Gump’s running track deep into Monument Valley, iconic thanks to the likes of Tom Hanks and John Wayne. This incredible and vast red rock desert, home to the Navajo was my playground for a 4WD jeep tour and desert exploration. Hearing the Navajo play the flute amongst complete silence was wonderful, where is a tape recorder when you need one?
My last National Park visit was perhaps the greatest of all, the Grand Canyon. Formed over millions of years of ice, rain, wind and erosion. The first sighting of the Grand Canyon will stay imprinted on my mind forever. A few words spring to mind; vast, endless, colourful, magical, and beautiful (and that is just from the viewpoint on the rim). It was not until I followed one of the snaking trails into the belly of the canyon that it came alive and I felt a true sense of its scale. I hiked the 8 hour trail down to Plateau Point which is one of the greatest and most rewarding trails, and it’s not until I was deep inside the canyon that I became aware of the various ecosystems which inhabit this dry and arid landscape.
I finished my 10 day trip where all young(ish) travellers go when they need a reason to misbehave, in the desert neon city of Las Vegas. Far from the wonders of the national parks and even for those who don’t like to drink and gamble, Vegas is a must see as well as being a crazy place for people-watching. The bright lights, incredible cars, over the top casinos and constant hum make this desert city a great way to finish.
America surpassed my expectations and it is times like this that I was pleased to be wrong! Since that holiday I have been back many times and constantly surprised by the sheer diversity and magnificent scale of what America offers.
Happy travelling folks!