One of my favorite things about traveling is when we find ourselves somewhere that defies all attempts to describe it. Often these places are impossibly beautiful, but they also tend to be incredibly foreign and unabashedly unique as well. I always hold a special place in my heart for these places, the ones that are so singular that you could never mistake them for anywhere else on the planet. Their “otherness” befuddles and bewilders me, and as I attempt to reconceptualize a world in which they and everywhere else I have ever experienced exist in parallel to one another, I feel as though I am acutely aware of my mind expanding.

I can never predict in advance which places will cause my synapses to explode in sensory fireworks, but I have felt this way while wandering through the chaotic, colorful streets of Kathmandu, Nepal and the close, cluttered streets of Hanoi as cauldrons of soup bubble alongside women who support themselves by selling zippers and buttons amongst a steady stream of motorcycles. I have felt it while gazing out on the rolling rice terraces of southern China while diving alongside prehistoric behemoth bumphead parrotfish in Borneo and while wandering the remains of a mighty empire in Rome. These are places where a surprise exists around every corner, where the stories run deep and history is palpable. They make the world not only feel large, but limitless too, and they reignite my excitement to spend my life exploring and witnessing what our planet has to offer. Stumbling upon these kind of places is one of the things that makes a life of travel so rewarding for me.

Often it has felt that in order to have a brush with “the other”, we have to be physically as far from home as possible; our recent road trip through Utah, which we kicked off in Moab, was a great reminder that this need not be the case.

Utah Sunset

We arrived in Utah after a day of driving through Colorado, just as the sun was setting. Although we appreciated the golden hour introduction, as we drove down route 128 onto a road called the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway in pitch-black darkness, we couldn’t help but feel like we were missing out on something. The night was dense and velvety, our headlights the only source of illumination for miles, yet as we traced the curve of the road toward Moab, we both sensed something looming out in the distance. It felt very, very big and very, very old.

T3050263

Though we are not what you would call “morning people”, when the following day dawned, we were wide awake and ready to explore. Our destination was Arches National Park or, as we (ok, I…) kept calling it in our car, “Bedrock, USA”.

Arches National Park, Utah

Seriously, driving into Arches, it was like our car turned into a time machine and we were hurtled back to the days of the dinosaur. The landscape is such that it would not have been out of place or all that surprising if we had spotted Fred Flintstone heading off to work or some brontosauruses and wooly mammoths plodding out in the distance. The land here doesn’t just feel old, it feels timeless and eternal—like it has always been here, and predates everything.

Arches National Park, Utah

Needless to say, it was absolutely stunning. We spent most of our time there in a dreamy daze wondering what we did to get so lucky that we should get to witness this place for ourselves.

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

We only intended to spend a morning at Arches, but we easily spent an entire day there slowly driving from one scenic point to the next, frequently stopping to take yet another panorama, and even tackling a few gentle hikes. It was absolutely incredible to see what time had wrought on the landscape there, these incredible arches (hence the name of the park) chiseled out by time’s patient hand, forming an enduring fingerprint of Earth’s past. Even better, because we were there in low season, hardly anyone else was there and oftentimes it was just us and the dogs and these billion-year-old rocks.

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park, Utah

Arches is not an easy place to capture with words or pictures. The closest comparison I can come up with is to simply say that this is what I consider to be the American equivalent of Angkor Wat. It is a supremely humbling place to visit and a wonderful testament to the beautiful history of our planet.

Arches National Park, Utah Arches National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park provided a very different (but no less mesmerizing) topography to Arches, despite being no more than a 30-minute drive away. Here the land is carved into deep trenches and gorges, and unless you have a 4WD all-terrain vehicle or are prepared to do some serious hiking, you drink its beauty in from above. As you can probably guess, we are the opposite of serious hikers, and besides, with two dogs in tow, all of the trails at Canyonlands were off limits to us. So instead, we had to settle for the lazy man views, which suited us perfectly.

Cayonlands National Park, Utah

Rather than giving me Jurassic Park flashbacks, the canals and crevices of Canyonlands reminded me more of an extraterrestrial landscape and once more I felt I was seeing the world with fresh eyes. We sat on a rock at Green River overlook and gazed out, waiting for the sun to drop from its perch and paint the sky in its wake. The man next to us paced back and forth, fiddling with his camera and muttering, “Come on, come on!” like the sun was a pet who would perform on command or followed any schedule but its own. I wondered what the impatient man’s hurry was, why this moment was one he would want to rush. As the sun finally dipped low and smoldered in the sky, it felt a bit like we were somewhere else, like we were the heroes of a space flick who had finally, after many travails, made it to Mars and it was more beautiful than we had imagined. The sunset was one of the best in our travels, but being there together was the real reward.

Cayonlands National Park, Utah
Cayonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands National Park
Cayonlands National Park, Utah

Moab is a place where dreams I never knew I had came to life. I remarked several times that if any place would ever turn me into a hiker, this would be it. (Not something I say lightly! Remember this?) It’s a fantastic place where rust red desert meets snowy sleet grey mountains on the horizon and you feel like little more than a freckle on the face of the earth.

Near Moab, Utah
Near Moab, Utah

We quickly decided to add an extra day to our visit so that we could spend more time exploring, taking joy rides down Route 128 and even attempting an ill-named but puppy-friendly hike into Negro Bill Canyon. After months of never-ending sub-zero winter in Minnesota, it felt so good to get outside and enjoy some sunshine in such a wonderful place. We spent two days exploring Moab, and my only regret is that we weren’t able to spend even more time there.

Having traveled to some insanely beautiful places, I can easily say that Moab now ranks near the very top of my list of places I have been lucky enough to visit and that I can’t actually believe exists. Moab… who knew? Consider our minds blown!

Now it’s your turn: What’s the coolest place you’ve ever visited? Would you be interested in visiting Moab?

Cayonlands National Park, Utah

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (24)

  1. April 14, 2015 at 1:40 am
    Apr. 14, '15

    I would definitely be interested in visiting Moab and the Utah National Parks. I love the landscape in northern Arizona so much and I imagine it would be quite similar.
    Katie recently posted..White sands and donut vans on the South Coast of New South Wales

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:21 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      Yes, the landscape is naturally quite similar between Arizona and Utah (makes sense given their relative locations!), but I think if I had to pick a favorite between them, I’d tip my hand toward Utah… if only because it not only has those stunning red rock formations, but it also has those wonderful mountains too! Then again, AZ does have the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley and Horseshoe Bend, so… it’s probably best to say it’s a stunning part of the country that more people should be visiting!

  2. April 14, 2015 at 7:45 am
    Apr. 14, '15

    Moab has been on my list for a very long while now! These pictures are so breathtaking (and I don’t use that lightly!). Thank you so much for sharing. Also: “cause my synapses to explode in sensory fireworks” –> NAILED IT. Love that description. 🙂
    Amanda | Chasing My Sunshine recently posted..Classpass & I Are Breaking Up

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:22 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      Aw, thanks for your kind comment, Amanda! Moab is so wonderful that our photos and words really don’t do it justice so I really hope you do get to make it out there and see it for yourself! You won’t be disappointed.

  3. April 14, 2015 at 8:11 am
    Apr. 14, '15

    I haven’t spent much time in the American West so I’m always still shocked that things like this exist in this country! Moab is on my hopeful to do list for the 2 months I’ll be back this summer 🙂 Beautiful photos.
    Amanda recently posted..Farsickness Monthly Recap: March 2015

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:25 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      Yes, it was really only after we left on our RTW trip that we were able to get the distance to realize that the U.S. really does have some incredibly beautiful attractions that are unrivaled by anything else anywhere else. I had never considered visiting Utah during my seven-year stint living in Nashville, but I’m so glad to have rectified that error. The American SouthWest is absolutely stunning and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been… if only it were more affordable, I’d spend a lot more time exploring its many splendors.

  4. April 14, 2015 at 11:22 am
    Apr. 14, '15

    My guy and I are planning a road trip this summer, and Utah is on the list. This has got me so so excited, so thank you!
    And ONCE AGAIN, this is further evidence of your stunning travel writing abilities. You really are gifted my dear, keep it up. xx
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..Details of Qatar

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:26 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      I am SO EXCITED for you! We have more posts on Utah coming up, so hopefully that will fan the flames and help give you some ideas of other places to visit on your road trip. It’s seriously one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, so I’m sure you guys will LOVE it.

  5. April 14, 2015 at 12:45 pm
    Apr. 14, '15

    We loved Moab too! We spent 5 nights there last May and fell in love with the area. Hope you got to drive down through Monument Valley as you continued further south 🙂 We also did the Negro Bill hike.. when we visited in late May it was already scorching mid-day and the combination of dog friendly and river crossings sealed the deal for us. Great pictures
    Rhonda recently posted..Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:29 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      March turned out to be the perfect time to visit—temperatures were lovely and it was still very quiet and well within low season. It was also so nice of the guy at the hotel we stayed at to recommend Negro Bill Canyon to us, as I doubt we would have found it on our own, but he said that if you have dogs, you’ve got to do that hike! We didn’t make it all the way to the end because our corgi HATES water and so we had to carry him across the river crossings and that got old after the fourth or fifth one, but we still really enjoyed the parts of it that we did see!

      • April 15, 2015 at 5:09 pm
        Apr. 15, '15

        opps 🙂 Well, having a lab and border collie… we spent a LOT of time splashing in the water crossings 🙂 I did some research before we went, knowing the state parks in Utah forbid dogs, so was thrilled to have one so close to town that also included water. You didn’t mention it, but if you’re ever back in the are Dead Horse state park allows dogs on the trails as well.
        Rhonda recently posted..Taking a Walk on the Wild Side

  6. April 14, 2015 at 8:00 pm
    Apr. 14, '15

    I would love to go to Moab, especially after experiencing the unique and kind-of similar landscapes in Cappadoccia and Drumheller. It’s places like that where Mother Nature really wows and humbles.

    Also – I love how your pooches seem to smile in the shots 🙂
    Emily recently posted..Local Eats: Weslodge

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:30 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      Cappadoccia is definitely on our list, but until we make it to Turkey, I’m really glad we got to have a taste of those other worldly rock formations in Utah. Absolutely stunning.

      And yes, Rory in particular is extremely photogenic. We need to put that little dog to work as a catalog model or something to pay for all his kibble and vet bills! 😉

  7. April 14, 2015 at 9:29 pm
    Apr. 14, '15

    It’s amazing that this place exists in the US and I’ve never even entertained the idea of visiting. My brother has lived in the tiny, tiny town of Beaver, Utah, (and no, I’m not kidding) for the past 15 years. He is always going on and on about how amazingly beautiful Utah is and how I’m making a mistake by not exploring it. I knew he had a point but, wow, Moab is spectacular. I suppose my brother was right! I’m understanding more and more how much I need to start exploring North America. I’m glad you two had such a magical time in Utah 🙂
    Justine recently posted..Living in Jakarta: 10 Reasons I Hate My Apartment

    • April 15, 2015 at 10:33 am
      Apr. 15, '15

      Don’t worry—I resolutely ignored Utah for a really long time too and never once considered it might have anything other than Mormonism happening there. I’m not sure that I could hack living there long-term, but it’s certainly somewhere that deserves a visit, especially if your brother lives there! Whenever you’re back in that neck of the woods, definitely give it some love—it’s an easy place to be enchanted by!

  8. April 16, 2015 at 7:06 am
    Apr. 16, '15

    Gorgeous! I’ve always had a general idea that I’d like to visit Arches National Park, and this just brought the idea to life. Except now I plan to hike through it. The closest I’ve come is probably Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, the karst mountains around Yangshuo, and Halong Bay. I tend to favor big cities in my travels, but more and more I’m developing an appreciation for the outdoors. One of my regrets is not hiking the Samaria Gorge when we were in Crete. I guess I’ll just have to go back.

    And BTW, your writing in this post is just as beautiful as the scenery! Your opening paragraphs have me reflecting on places that have transported me and I’m now ensconced in happy memories 🙂
    Heather recently posted..The Best Meals We Ate in Paris

    • April 17, 2015 at 10:04 am
      Apr. 17, '15

      The more we travel, the more I really appreciate places for their natural beauty… it’s one of the reasons I actually do want to go back to China, so we can explore some of the southern provinces. Tiger Leaping Gorge is on my list! 😀

  9. April 17, 2015 at 9:15 am
    Apr. 17, '15

    While Arches might not be an easy place to “capture with words or pictures,” I think you did a fine job and you’re making me homesick, (Loved your Fred Flintstone reference). The problem with Moab is that when it’s home, it makes it that much harder to be impressed everywhere else. 😉
    Mark recently posted..SCRATCH MAP GIVEAWAY!

    • April 17, 2015 at 10:07 am
      Apr. 17, '15

      Thanks for the seal of approval, Mark! I can only imagine what it must be like to have Moab as your baseline… there’s truly nowhere else like it on the planet!

  10. April 30, 2015 at 5:44 am
    Apr. 30, '15

    The timing of your trip through Utah couldn’t be better! I am literally planning a roadtrip this second (from LA to Denver is the first leg). I desperately want to stop at the Grand Canyon, since I’ve never been. But the next leg was totally up in the air. Now we’re going the Utah route. I just found some crazy looking tents near the park where we’ll stay. Amazing. Can’t wait. Just a few more weeks!!!
    Julie recently posted..24 Hours at the Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur

    • May 3, 2015 at 12:21 pm
      May. 3, '15

      Oh, you are going to have the best time, Julie! Following Utah, we went through Arizona and I made sure we stopped at the Grand Canyon and it was AMAZING. On the whole, I think Utah was my favorite state on this road trip, but there is so much incredible stuff to see in that part of the U.S. (And we definitely have more posts on our road trip to come!)

  11. May 10, 2015 at 9:09 pm
    May. 10, '15

    WOW! Simply wow! I would love to visit this place. Your photos did a good job at making my mouth water with travel envy
    rebecca recently posted..My worst week in London Ever! Part 1

    • May 11, 2015 at 3:45 pm
      May. 11, '15

      Moab was hella awesome. I hope you get to visit it someday; there’s truly nowhere else like it!

  12. carla
    October 12, 2016 at 9:40 am
    Oct. 12, '16

    Hi Steph

    Your Southwest USA trip looks amazing! This kind of trip is at the top of our list – I wonder how much it cost per day if you have your own car? We have relatives who said it’s about the same as going on a tour so might as well go on a tour as we wouldn’t have to drive ourselves… (this isn’t really my way of travelling, usually it’s trains and buses for us though rather than driving). Is this true? And how long did it take to drive from one park to the next on average?

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