Gone ’til November: From Park City to Phoenix

When I hear the phrase gone ’til November, I think of the song in Wyclef Jean’s The Carnival. I love this album. My friends and I played it on repeat in our freshman year of college, and it’s a reminder of my late friend Aki, who used to sing the lyrics while dancing and bouncing around in my dorm room. I haven’t listened to it in a long time, but it still represents those crazy and beautiful years, and my first real experiences with freedom and independence.

I was away for most of October, first for work — at the Automattic annual grand meetup in Park City, Utah — and then on a two-week road trip with Nick through Utah and Arizona. I’ve traveled so much around the world in the past two decades. This trip has easily become my favorite.

I’m gone ’til November. I said this in my head, over and over, while driving on the road: zooming down an empty two-lane highway surrounded by massive red rocks and a landscape so surreal, so alien, that I repeatedly asked myself where I was.

I felt free for the first time in a while, genuinely excited about what I’d see around the next bend of the road, not able to think about anything else but what was in front of me.

It felt like a proper vacation.

I based our trip on this Visit Utah itinerary, with some adjustments and additions. Initially, I was unsure of the pace and thought I packed too much in two weeks, but looking back, I wouldn’t have changed anything. Ideally, I’d have added one or two days in Arizona, since we decided last-minute to skip the Grand Canyon.

A number of people I know explored many of these spots this year, and from what I’ve heard about the crowds and weather, our fall visit seems well-timed. The weather was bearable, with a mix of hot and sunny days, occasional overcast afternoons, and a few big storms. I loved seeing Utah’s landscape transform under a wet and volatile sky, but I also enjoyed feeling the desert sun. As expected, there were more visitors at Bryce and Zion National Parks, but overall, the parks, towns, and roads weren’t crowded. The busiest and most tourist-trekked part of the trip was at the end, in Sedona. I can imagine how miserable it gets in these places during the summer or school breaks, so I’m happy our time was smooth and pleasant.

Prelude: Park City, Utah

I’ve been to Park City twice, both times for work. I haven’t explored much of the area, but from strolling Main Street in the off-season, I can imagine how this place comes alive, especially in the winter and during Sundance. I’ve spent most of the time at the Canyons Resort with fellow Automatticians, working on projects, meeting colleagues I’ve not met in person, and spending time with some of the most talented, inspiring people in the world.

By next year, our company will have outgrown this resort, so it’s unlikely I’ll return to Park City in the fall, but I’m grateful for my time there, which introduced me to Utah. This road trip wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

downtown park city
Downtown Park City, from up a hill.
Wandering on the mountain behind the Canyons Resort, a few miles from downtown Park City.

Day 1: Arches National Park, Utah

Playlist selection: Greg Gaffin, Cold as the Clay

On Day 1 of our road trip, I took a shuttle from Park City to downtown Salt Lake City, and met Nick at a Hertz location at the Marriott, where we set off with our rental car, a silver Yaris. He hadn’t slept well, while I was running on a few hours of sleep after our company’s closing party the night before, so the first hours were rough. But once we passed through Provo, zoomed further away from civilization, and entered a beautiful rocky landscape, our sluggishness was replaced by excitement.

Several hours and 230 miles later, we reached our first official stop: Arches National Park, which is five miles north of Moab. The park has over 2,000 arches — the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world.

This was our first real brush with Utah, and we were in awe.

park avenue
Park Avenue, a viewpoint in Arches National Park.
double arch
Double Arch, a famous pair of natural arches.
One of the “windows” at Arches National Park.
Arches National Park
Rock against blue sky at Arches National Park.
Double Arch from afar, with a very phallic formation on the left.

Moab, Utah

Moab was our base for the first two nights. If you pass through it, I recommend the cottages at Three Dogs and a Moose, a block from downtown Moab’s main street. We stayed in Kenzie’s Cottage (fit for tiny house owners like us, I suppose!). The bedroom is tight, but the bathroom — the rainfall showerhead in particular — is quite luxurious.

Photo Oct 21, 7 14 35 AM
The grounds of Three Dogs and a Moose.
Photo Oct 20, 5 25 12 PM
Kenzie’s Cottage.

Day 2: Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Playlist selection: Garbage, Garbage

According to a legend, cowboys chased horses to Dead Horse Point, which acted as a natural corral. They then chose the horses they wanted and let the others go free; over time, some horses were left to die. The panoramic view, partially shown below, overlooks a bend in the Colorado River, as well as nearby Canyonlands National Park.

We spent the first part of Day 2 here, hiking a fairly flat trail along the rim from the visitor’s center to this famous viewpoint.

Photo Oct 20, 11 42 48 AM
The view at Dead Horse Point, 2,000 feet above the Colorado River.
Photo Oct 20, 10 44 15 AM
A puddle in the parking lot of the visitor’s center.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Playlist selections: M83, Before the Dawn Heals Us (before and during storm) | Björk, Debut (after storm)

Canyonlands, about 40 minutes from Moab, is so surreal. As you view various canyons, carved over time by mighty rivers, you ask yourself: are we still on earth? After exploring Dead Horse Point State Park, we continued on to Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district, where we stopped along numerous viewpoints. We arrived as a huge storm hit, and saw some of the canyons in a very different light (the Green River Overlook, pictured below, looked like a landscape from Mordor).

Canyonlands was one of my favorite parks because of its extraordinary landscapes, yet it also felt out of my reach — we didn’t physically trek into the canyons, nor did we have time to camp inside the park. I’d love to return and spend more time here.

grand view point
Grand View Point Overlook in Canyonlands National Park.
Puddles along the rim at Grand View Point Overlook.
Green River Overlook
Green River Overlook, just after a storm.
Canyonlands National Park
The Green River Overlook area, clearing up after a storm.
buck canyon overlook
A faint rainbow above Buck Canyon Overlook.
Our silver Yaris, in the Green Overlook parking lot.
Our silver Yaris, in the Green Overlook parking lot.

Day 3: Monument Valley, Utah

Playlist selections: Shpongle, Are You Shpongled? | Drive original soundtrack

We said goodbye to Moab and set off for Monument Valley, 146 miles south. When I was planning the trip, I almost cut Monument Valley from the itinerary, as it’s a bit out of the way for a single night.

But we couldn’t miss these views:

monument valley
The West and East Mittens and Merrick Butte in Monument Valley Tribal Park.

I’m glad we made our way down here. We explored the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with a local guide, David, on a long and informative tour, and visited various mesas and buttes, restricted trails, several traditional hogans, and a village. It’s a beautiful, eerie, but also sad place. Nick was rather emotional during our stay, and I hope he has a chance to write about it.

ear of the wind
“Ear of the Wind” in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
taking a pic
Nick taking a picture of buttes from “John Ford’s Point.”
One of the famous mittens in Monument Valley.
The exterior of the kitschy museum at Goulding’s Lodge, housing Hollywood, John Ford, and John Wayne paraphernalia. A strange place overall.
monument valley tipi village
Monument Valley Tipi Village, between the tribal park entrance and Goulding’s Lodge, where we slept for one rainy night.
One of the tipis in the village. Cozy and cute. We got wet sleeping inside during a storm, but it was still fun.

Day 4: Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Playlist selections: The KLF, The White Room | Hallucinogen, In Dub Live

The route from Monument Valley to Natural Bridges National Monument is a bit precarious — you drive up a steep, winding dirt road up a mountain. As with many of the roads we encountered, there was no barrier between us and the cliff.

Our visit to Natural Bridges was relatively quick: we viewed two of the natural bridges — Kachina and Sipapu — from viewpoints along the park’s scenic drive, and then hiked down to the third bridge, Owachomo, which is the smallest and thinnest of the three.

owachomo bridge
On the path to Owachomo Bridge. (Owachomo means “rock mound” in Hopi.)
natural bridges national monument
Under the Owachomo Bridge.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Playlist selection: The Mars Volta, Deloused in the Comatorium

After our pitstop at Natural Bridges, we moved on to Capitol Reef, which is unlike the other parks we visited: more green and lush, covered in a variety of colors and full of orchards (planted by Mormon pioneers in the 1800s). The park is defined by the Waterpocket Fold, a step-like fold in the rock’s layers. We hiked the first few miles of the Fremont River Trail, which had lovely views of the park.

capitol reef national park visitor center
The visitor center at Capitol Reef National Park.
capitol reef national park
View from atop the Fremont River Trail.
panorama point
The view from Panorama Point in Capitol Reef National Park.

Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Playlist selections: M.I.A., Kala | Blu Mar Ten mix (title unknown)

After our visit to Capitol Reef, we stayed in a room above the Chuckwagon General Store in Torrey, a small town near the park. On the morning of Day 5, we set off on Scenic Byway 12, through the towns of Boulder and Escalante, to Bryce Canyon National Park, home of the largest concentration of hoodoos (tall, skinny rock spires) in the world.

We hiked the three-and-a-half mile Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trail, beginning at Sunrise Point and ending at Sunset Point.

Spectacular. Jaw-dropping. Incredible. These are meaningless superlatives. There are no words.

bryce point
The view at Bryce Point, one of the overlooks at Bryce Canyon National Park.
sunrise point
The beginning of a trail at Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon.
bryce canyon
Hikers amongst the rocks in Bryce Canyon.
sunrise point
Another shot of hoodoos at Sunrise Point.
bryce canyon
A passageway through the rocks.
queen's garden trail
A bare twisted tree on the Queen’s Garden Trail in Bryce Canyon.
hoodoo beer
Post-hike hoodoo ale from the Bryce Canyon General Store.

Days 6-7: Zion National Park, Utah

Playlist selection: Mohsen Namjoo, Toranj

We were able to slow down a bit in Zion. We reserved a campsite at Watchman Campground for two nights, so we had time for several hikes. Being in and around flowing water was also a nice change from the previous parks. When we arrived, we went straight into Zion Canyon, to the Temple of Sinawava, to hike the Narrows. The following day, we hiked the Emerald Pools, Kayenta, and Grotto trails in the morning, and the riverside trail from Canyon Junction to the visitor center in the afternoon.

The Emerald Pools were underwhelming (in late October, they certainly aren’t emerald), but the hike itself is varied, while the Kayenta trail that rises above the Virgin River has an awesome view of it curving through the canyon. I’d love to return to Zion to go deeper into the Narrows — we arrived in the afternoon, and only hiked in for a few hours before we turned around to hike out.

zion national park
One of the massive formations in Zion Canyon, seen from the trail between the Grotto and Zion Lodge.
virgin river
A shot of the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.
virgin river
The Virgin River inside the Narrows.
the narrows
Hikers exploring the Narrows.
the narrows
Nick with his stick, walking on water.
zion national park
A view of the river from the Kayenta Trail.
watchman campground
Our tiny two-person Marmot tent at Watchman Campground (site D29).

Day 8: Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Playlist selection: Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Storytellers

After Zion, we said goodbye to Utah and followed route 89 to Page, Arizona, which was our base to explore Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and the Colorado River for the next two days. Many of the small motels in Page were booked, but I found a spacious suite on 8th Avenue (known as the “Street of Little Motels”).

Horseshoe Bend is a few miles outside of Page and is exactly what you expect it to be: stunning. It was created by layers of Navajo sandstone, eroded by water over millions of years. One-thousand feet below, the Colorado River bends 270 degrees.

horseshoe bend
Horseshoe Bend, created by the Colorado River.
horseshoe bend
A different perspective at Horseshoe Bend, between a crevice in the rocks above.
horseshoe bend
An obligatory fisheye shot, taken with my olloclip lens.
horseshoe bend
Fisheye selfie.

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Playlist selections: Jens Lekman, Oh You’re So Silent Jens | Rancid, And Out Come the Wolves

These famous slot canyons are about a 10-minute drive from Horseshoe Bend. There are a number of tours, and we went with Dixie Ellis, as recommended by Karen, a colleague. Photographers with proper cameras and tripods can take a slightly longer photography tour of the canyon; Nick and I don’t have fancy cameras, so we went on a regular tour, which lasted a bit over an hour and was more than decent. There were less than a dozen of us, and the other tour behind us kept their distance, so the experience was lovely and not anything like I’ve read it could be, especially during peak season.

No photograph of mine could capture the beauty of this place.

Photo Oct 26, 1 38 56 PM

Photo Oct 26, 1 05 37 PM

Photo Oct 26, 1 22 58 PM

Day 9: Glen Canyon Dam and the Colorado River, Arizona

Playlist selections: Smashing Pumpkins, Adore | Radiohead, The Bends

On our second day in Page, we booked a half-day rafting trip on the Colorado River through Colorado River Discovery. It’s a smooth journey on a motorized pontoon raft that begins at the Glen Canyon Dam and glides eight miles on the river to Horseshoe Bend. (You get a reverse perspective of Horseshoe Bend while on the raft, gazing 1,000 feet up as the people at the viewpoint look down.)

colorado river discovery
We sat on the pontoon of our raft as it coasted on the Colorado River.
glen canyon dam
Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, a few miles from Page.
colorado river discovery
Surrounded by Navajo sandstone while rafting on the Colorado River.

Days 10-11: Sedona, Arizona

Playlist selection: PJ Harvey; Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

From Page, we continued south on 89 to Sedona, our final destination. Originally, we planned to visit the Grand Canyon on the way to Sedona, but the hour-plus detour west from the highway didn’t make sense since we wouldn’t be able to do a proper hike anyway. On one hand, it feels silly to drive through the area and not go to the Grand Canyon, but on the other, it felt wrong, even disrespectful, to rush it.

Ending in Sedona completed the journey nicely — it was wetter there than other stops on our trip, and the fertile forest ground of Oak Creek Canyon, where we hiked and stayed, offered a nice balance to the dry, rocky landscape of much of Utah. We stayed in Wild Rose, an adorable chalet cabin at The Canyon Wren, six miles from uptown Sedona and very close to Slide Rock State Park.

We slid down the 80-foot slippery rock chute at Slide Rock; hiked the gorgeous West Fork trail (with numerous creek crossings) in Coconino National Forest; went off-roading on the Broken Arrow Trail with Pink Jeep Tours during a storm; and hiked around Bell Rock in search of the vortex.

Fallen leaves along the West Fork trail in Coconino National Forest, about 10 miles north of uptown Sedona.
west fork trail
One of the numerous creek crossings on the West Fork trail.
Photo Oct 29, 10 23 49 AM
Signs of fall: changing leaves on the West Fork trail.
Photo Oct 28, 2 46 29 PM
Slide Rock State Park, a popular place for wading and swimming, six miles from uptown Sedona.
Photo Oct 28, 1 44 04 PM
The coolest feature of Slide Rock is its 80-foot stone chute, smoothed over time.
Photo Oct 29, 12 53 18 PM
Signs in the parking lot of Pink Jeep Tours, which takes visitors on extreme off-road adventures on the rocks of Sedona.
Photo Oct 30, 10 50 18 AM
View on the pathway up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
chapel of the rocks
Chapel of the Holy Cross, up high and built into the buttes of Sedona.
Photo Oct 30, 11 26 44 AM
Bell Rock, a site said to be full of vortex energy, near the village of Oak Creek.
wild rose cabin
The Wild Rose cabin at The Canyon Wren Cabins in Oak Creek Canyon.

Day 12: To SFO, via Phoenix

Playlist selection: Blue Motion, Unquote, and Mr Sizef; Covered By the Dust

On the way from Sedona to Phoenix, we planned to stop at Arcosanti, an experimental town, but the tires of our beloved Yaris didn’t like the dirt road, so we turned around, just to be safe. I’m not even sure what we missed there, but I hope to return in the future.

I loved every moment of this trip, and I can’t believe it took me this long to visit this part of the US. Nick and I are convinced, more than ever, that we need to hit the road full-time to explore North America’s national parks. In a teardrop trailer, of course.

Photographs taken with a Canon G11 or iPhone 5s. More images on Instagram, if you’re interested.

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

45 thoughts on “Gone ’til November: From Park City to Phoenix

  1. Beautifully written, photographed, and organized. I think you made the right call on the Grand Canyon. You would have felt rushed. Visit it another time!

  2. Wonderful Shots ! Thanx for sharing. This rekindled many fond memories. I took a trip to PC in the 80’s… ended up purchasing a condo and stayed & explored UT for 10 years ! Be4st trip I ever took 😉

  3. My boyfriend, I, and a few friends are going to be making a huge trip to Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion Canyon in April. Your pictures are gorgeous and I can’t wait to go! Thank you for sharing!

  4. This post made me both nostalgic of the trip my husband and I made through Utah and wanderlustful to do it again. Utah is such an amazing state and I miss it. Thanks for the post and BEAUTIFUL pictures!

  5. The wonderful description of your journey with the help of musical numbers and awe-stricken pictures has left me speechless! The grand canyon and the other places are shown so nicely through the photographs. I love exploring new destinations and so I add these places to my bucket list.

  6. Sometimes I look at photos like these and think, oh now I feel like I was there. Your photos are so incredible, but I can’t help but look at them and think how much I really want to be there. I have never seen anything so incredible. I think I have to rewrite my list of places to visit and make sure to use this post as my reference. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Wow, my first thought is how awesome and epic this trip was ~ perfect time of the year, and the places you hit were places I dream about visiting (did the Arches/DHP/Canyonlands just a few months ago)…and will plan to head south into Arizona hopefully come Jan/Feb (not ideal times, but with snow could be amazing). While the photos were part of the ‘epic’ scenes throughout this post, what I liked best was your description of driving down into this part of the world ~ the exact same emotion I had and I went from a tired soul (coming off a work conference in SLC) to being on cloud-9 for a week: “zooming down an empty two-lane highway surrounded by massive red rocks and a landscape so surreal, so alien…” Zion and Antelope Canyon seem like a must for me…your photos there with the colors, flow and serenity of the place (which I’ve heard is not so serene in the summer travel months). Epic vacation…may make your tiny house feel just a bit smaller 🙂

    1. Arizona in the winter sounds interesting — agree that with snow, the landscape would be incredible!

      Zion is a must, I think — I’d go if you have the chance. (This is coming, though, from someone who was born and raised in CA and has only been to Yosemite once!) I also still have Yellowstone and Glacier on my list, too.

      So many parks, so little time.

      1. Thank you, then Zion will be the plan if all goes well for a little wintertime play. Yellowstone/Teton, Glacier and the Olympics (Rainier and so much there) are a must. Yep, so many parks… Cheers ~

  8. Sure looked like a breathtaking 2 weeks… and thank you for taking us along. I especially liked the shot of the Green River Overlook, just after a storm–it brought up feelings that are still difficult to put down on paper. Also, the photo of you and Nick on/under Owachama Bridge is neat!

    I plan on reviewing the journey again, with plans of playing some of the music in the background. Thanks again, Cheri.

  9. Such a fantastic trip and so glad you made it. Many of the places I have already experienced. But I would enjoy visiting Sedona and area. Choice photographs–thank you for this well-executed (of course…), gorgeous blog post.

  10. Ce reportage est d’une beauté époustouflante. Comme on dit en anglais “very wonderful”. Les photos sont belles et bien réussies, les paysages sont sublimes et la photographie est très bonne. Bravo, et merci mille fois de nous faire partager quelques aspects de ce pays merveilleux que sont les Etats-unis.

  11. What a wonderful adventure Cheri. Thanks for sharing you amazing photos and story of the trip. Glad to see you made it to Antelope Canyon. It really is one of the wonders of the natural world. We clearly have to go back to see Moab and Monument Valley and you have to go back to see the Grand Canyon. I think I’ll go and back my bags 🙂

  12. Whoa! That was quite a post, lady! At first, I wondered if you had dragged your home along with you. I’ve been to many of these places. But I have never been to Antelope Canyon, and just WANT to go there. Your shots are marvelous…I mean, how can you not take a great shot?

  13. Incredible post, Cheri 🙂

    Though I have seen scores of images from Grand Canyon, some of the images here are so unique and breath taking 🙂

    I certainly feel like, this is one must explore place in life…

    Thank you so much for sharing, and have a great time 🙂

  14. For someone who had no yen to visit the US of A the photos of your road trip made me want to do your road trip day for day. Who knows maybe I will someday … getting it on the bucket list would be a good start. Thank you for sharing Cherie, beautiful photos. Were they all taken with an iphone? I noticed one was captioned with a special lens which I think is iphone genre. 🙂 Linda

    1. Were they all taken with an iphone? I noticed one was captioned with a special lens which I think is iphone genre.

      Many of these were taken with my iPhone 5s (generally the square-shaped ones, which were first shared on Instagram). Yep, the olloclip is the tiny lens that you can attach to an iPhone 🙂

  15. Exquisite shots. We made a similar trip — well, we’re old, so it took two trips — love “revisiting” Zion and the Monument Valley Mitten (we did a hike around) via your photos. Makes me want to do it again. Cheers —

  16. These are beautiful images! Many years ago I drove coast to coast and was captivated by the beauty of that region. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take the time to stop except to sleep.

  17. I so loved this…thank you for taking us along. (And with music, too!) Those slot canyons… I fell into your pictures. Incredible. I can see why this place would make your heart sing. Really lovely.

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