Five days of 100 degrees.

Eat: Spotted Dog Café, Singha.

Plume of smoke near Beaver, UT

Plume of smoke near Beaver, UT

Play: Zion, Bryce, Moab.

Ramble on: Zion, Bryce, Moab.

Ramblin’: I miss free camp spots in Utah!

July is known for many things: Fourth of July fireworks, Pioneer Day (if you live in Utah), long summer nights; but not camping in the desert as the temperatures make it a tad on the hot side. But hey, we won’t have to fight for prime camp spots.

Zion

Utah is on fire this year due to several years of record snowfall, which led to a lot of growth (read: kindling). After a dry winter and spring the forests are drawing comparisons to a box of matches. Driving south on I-15 you could see plumes of smoke coming over the hills. Yikes.

View from Angels Landing

View from Angels Landing

The Zion area has great mountain biking, hiking, climbing and canyoneering. It used to have great free camping. We found an old standby of a site on the road up to Gooseberry Mesa for the first night, but were greeted by a shiny new “No Camping” within half mile from the road sign. Awesome. Let’s move to some choice river front camp spots between G-berry and Virgin called Mosquito Cove. Nope, gated and closed. Why can’t the BLM install some pit toilets and charge $5 to camp like places such as Fruita to keep some camp areas open, I will never know.  We wind up camping at a campground just outside the park entrance for $30 – but they do have showers and are stumbling distance from several bars and restaurants. Air conditioning will be nice to have close by!As mentioned earlier, the Zion area has every outdoor activity at your fingertips. In just a few days we ticked off a bike ride on the JEM trail and Hurricane Rim trail – one of the best in the state – as well as hiking to the top of Angels Landing and a quick canyoneering jaunt through Keyhole Canyon.

No shortage of great places to eat either, namely the Spotted Dog café. Offering a very reasonably priced and quick breakfast buffet, as well as the best dinner in Springdale. They have a wild mushroom appetizer that is one of the best I have ever tasted. Spotted Dogs wine list is practically a book, with several hundred bottles in their cellar. Make it a point to stop there.

Bryce

Cairns in Bryce

So, which way?

Bryce is one of those places you have to see at least once: it is one of the most striking and contrasting views on Earth. Walking through a green ponderosa pine forest to an unassuming ledge that opens into an amphitheater of red and orange hoodoos eroded out of the hillside is an unforgettable view. There are a few short hikes you can do, but after a few hours you’ve pretty much had your fill of the park.

We opted to go for a ride on the Thunder Mountain trail after seeing most of Bryce in our half day, but wildfires made it feel like you were pedaling through a campfire. Hard to breathe and difficult to see with your eyes tearing: not exactly great biking weather. Quick change of plans to start the drive to Moab early and hit the Hells Backbone Grill in Boulder along the way.

Moab

Everyone’s first and most people’s favorite desert place. Moab, to me, was a great place to get acquainted to the desert environment and activities the sand has to offer. I quickly outgrew it though: limited free camp spots, crowded, too many doubletrack biking trails, not the greatest food options and really short canyoneering routes. I always seem to wind up here though.

Laura putting the “drop” in Tierdrop.

Arches National park is a place most people see from their car or within a half mile of it, so it’s a perfect choice if you’re willing to work.  A relatively quick scramble up an empty wash brings you to a plateau that allows you to drop down Tierdrop canyon, which has a stunning 100 foot plus final free hanging rappel. We saw no one on this adventure! Ditto for a full moon hike by headlamp up to delicate arch.

We even found a great Thai restaurant just off Center St called Singha – check out the Pad Thai and anything with their green curry.

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