A Non- Scientific Compilation of our Favorite Things in Utah and Beyond!
The assignment is rather simple, places, things, topics, whatever; it just has to apply somehow to the outdoors, and the reasons why we love them. This is by no means a complete list, there are way to many things that we love about the outdoors. Some obvious, some not so- this is just a sample for 2015, how many are on your list?
Text and photos by Tyson Bradley, Paul Diegel, James Dillon, Jared Hargrave, Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar, Ashley Heil, Whitney James, Michelle Mulder, Paul Oelerich, Ron Penner, Alex Stoy, and Sean Zimmerman-Wall.
The air at Joe’s is alien and energized all year round. You can feel that something strange is happening there but don’t let that stop you from taking in Utah’s backwater desert paradise. Hulking boulders speckle the narrow valley with problems ranging from V0 slab to V13 overhanging sandstone. Camping is abundant and the river brings a welcome frigidity to a long day of climbing in the sun. It’s close by Utah standards, the atmosphere is raw and the donuts in town are out of this world.
Adventure Racing for Kids
Last June, Snowbird hosted the Kids Adventure Games, an adventure race for tots through tweens, where teams of two race through physical and problem-solving challenges, ranging from dart-blowing to mud pits to rappelling. A chance to get muddy, in my clothes, on purpose—and Mom won’t get mad? My kids quickly secured teammates and witty team names (Mud, Sweat and Cheers!), packed their gear, and lined up at the start. Though mud was scarce, they tackled each challenge and puzzled through each problem, feverishly ticking off items on their grimy maps. When they finally powered through the finish, sweaty and smiling, they felt like they’d really accomplished something. Fingers crossed for mud come June 20th!
–Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
Above the SR 95/276 junction there’s a paved section of Cottonwood Wash Road, which doubles as a backcountry airstrip. It also triples as a gateway to adventure! To the west, Mt. Hillers and the Henry Mountains rise up, offering amazing backcountry skiing as well as a mountainous version of the famous White Rim bike ride. For 360 degrees, canyoneering for all abilities abound. Some say, there may even be world-class climbing near by??? 95/276, an airstrip in the middle of nowhere. An airstrip smack dab in the middle of everything!
Favorite Summer Skiing: Uinta Mountains
One of my favorite times to ski is late spring/early summer. Crazy? Yes, and that’s why it is awesome. Pre-dawn starts at snowless trailheads force you to really earn your turns by hiking on dirt with skis strapped to your pack. The mornings break to warm, bluebird days in the high alpine where you have the mountains to yourself (everyone else is golfing.) I think the Uinta Mountains have the best lines for summer exploration. Bald Mountain, Reids Peak, Mount Watson and Hayden Peak all have ribbons of corn snow that last through June most years, and the approaches are way too easy. As soon as the Mirror Lake Highway opens around Memorial Day Weekend, summer ski season officially begins.
The Harvest Scene, The Maze District, Canyonlands
The Maze District of Canyonlands proudly promotes self-reliance and solidarity. Access issues are limited not only because of its remote location but also because it is mandatory to utilize a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. The “campsites” are as primitive as primitive sites can be. You will be required to acquire a backcountry permit (usually ahead of time) canypermits.nps.gov and bring your wag-bags. The best campsites have sweet views of the Doll House. If you plan to drop into the Maze and find the Harvest Scene it is highly recommended that you have a compass and topographic map. More importantly, it is necessary that you have the ability to use them; it’s called the Maze for a reason.
Favorite Big City Amenity
I concede that Utah is my home with enough terrain for a lifetime of outdoor adventure. Yet we all need to get away sometimes and that is where my favorite Big City amenity factors in: Salt Lake City International Airport. Direct flights to Paris, Toyko, Anchorage and Cancun allow for cultural exchanges and often much needed breaks from winter inversions and summer heat waves. If you’re not afraid to make connecting flights, you can be anywhere in the world within 24 hours. Not to mention anywhere in the USA or Canada before dark.
The Golden Cathedral, Escalante
If you need some serious desert healing, this Cathedral will cleanse the soul. The trailhead is atop a high plateau and is reached by driving miles on a rough dirt road. The journey begins with a long descent down red rock and sand. The vegetation and desert come to life as you reach the Escalante River. The reward for your journey is entering the enchanted canyon. The Navajo sandstone walls curve around an oasis, ending in a perfect capsule of beauty. Stop and let this canyon reset you.
The mountains of Utah are rife with opportunity to get away from crowded ski areas and experience a little piece of powdery solitude. Yet many people venturing out into the backcountry with thousands of dollars worth of gear rarely have a three hundred dollar education. Level 1 avalanche courses are a great supplement to the local bulletins and give recreationists a leg up on the White Dragon. The men and women who teach these courses get just as much joy out of trenching a pow turn as they do from talking about human factors and fracture character. Spending countless hours in the field every season showing travelers the right way to approach the backcountry is critical, and in the end they help save many people from themselves.
The Bonneville Salt Flats
The mountains and deserts of Utah are always grabbing the headlines as far as scenery and adventure are concerned. For something completely different, head west of Salt Lake City towards that swingin’ town of Wendover for an otherworldly experience. Hop on your mountain bike and pedal across the smooth expanse, it’s as if you’re on another planet. Mountains rise in the distance floating as a mirage across this ancient remnant of Lake Bonneville. Travel remote roads to access the Deep Creek Range from the west, or go for a lonely hike to the summit of Pilot Peak and take in the large expanse. Caution, avoid this area in the middle of summer, unless you want to boil.
Provo Canyon River Float Trip
Some know the Provo River for world-class fly-fishing; others know it as an amazing inner tube and Stand Up Paddle float trip. There’s also a short and sweet hike to the must see Bridal Veil Falls. Pack a lunch, take a dip, paddle your SUP or lazily float down the river, and repeat. There aren’t many better ways to cool off on a hot summer afternoon than floating with friend’s down the Provo River.
Backcountry Skiing, Utah, 3rd Edition
After two years of writing and editing, the Third Edition of Backcountry Skiing, Utah has been published, and in my humble opinion it is a greatly improved resource for off-piste “glissers” in our beautiful state. It’s also available for a moderate price, whereas the 2nd edition could only be found on used book online trading forums for $100-350! The main upgrades from 2nd edition include 13 new tours in the Central Wasatch, new color action photos, and a modernized gear discussion. I hope it helps facilitate safe and fun ski touring adventures all around Utah for years to come.
Best Burger in Zion
As a recovering vegetarian, I can honestly say that I’ve seen very few burgers as delicious looking as those at Oscar’s Café in Springdale. The menu says it all, with options ranging from the Murder Burger with a half-pound garlic patty topped with everything delicious, to the BigAss Double Burger, which is everything you might imagine and more. I opted for the tacos after a day spent exploring the canyons of the park, but now I’m salivating over another trip to Zion National Park just to have a taste of what the locals order.
My friends often tease me about my lack of appreciation for finery. For the life of me, I can’t distinguish Gucci from Chanel. And I’m just as likely to wear Levi’s as AG’s. But there are certain things that a girl should absolutely have in her closet and, in my opinion, a lightweight, low-profile, puffy down jacket is one of them. It doesn’t matter what brand you buy, so long as you get yourself a good one. Or three. And may I recommend black? Because it will take you everywhere from sub-zero, backcountry trekking to outdoor summer symphonies. And there’s nothing fashionable about being cold.
-Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
Swimming Holes in the Desert
Water is the most precious and scarce of resources in the desert. The life giving rivers are mostly clogged with silt as they carry the suspended sediments towards the main artery of the region, the Colorado- too thin to plow, too thick to drink. With some searching, and effort, a clear stream can be attained for a refreshing dip. My favorite is Death Hollow, a tributary of the Escalante. An amazing 2-3 day hike that keeps you walking in the stream for most of its length, however there a few holes where the need to drop the pack and just jump in, reveling in the cool, clear waters in a spectacular setting.
Ski Mountaineering Racing
Who would have thought over 100 people would show up at Brighton on Tuesday nights to skin up, ski down, and repeat at high speed for an hour by headlamp? Practice your transitions, get your aerobic burn, scare yourself on easy descents, and invade Molly Green’s afterwards for a beverage and awards from local sponsors. You don’t have to wear lycra or rock tiny carbon race skis and boots worth more than cocaine per gram, but you can still race against most of the US National SkiMo team or huff and puff with the rest of the pack. Sounds dumb. I’m in.
Desolation Canyon, Green River
You put in east of Price, at Sand Wash, and take out after Swaseys in Green River. In between is 84 miles of Class I-III rapids, petroglyphs, and beautiful hikes including old ranches and an old distillery. Again, you will need to acquire a permit for this Utah Adventure and the BLM strictly enforces these permits at the boat ramps. This trip is best done in 5-7 days so that you have time to get off of the boat and enjoy all of sights along the way. Once you get off the water in Green River, it is recommended that you grab a burger and a beer at Ray’s Tavern. They embrace the boating community, so no shower is required.
Dixie National Forest
The stars above Dixie National Forest will forever change your galactic perspective. They are crisp and accented before the dusty swirl of the Milky Way and below them miles of high desert trails and evergreen forest ramble o’er hill and valley, gazing skyward between steep canyon hoodoos. The nights in Dixie can be cold but that only makes the stars that much brighter, and your campfire that much cozier. At dawn watch the sunrise pink and orange across a piece of America more beautiful and liberating than any Fourth of July parade.
Mud, sweat, and gears are what build every trail in Utah. Trail builders come from various walks of life and take great pride in the masterpieces they create. Finding the perfect line across a wooded slope is no mean feat and it takes years of practice to nail down. A rake, shovel, and Pulaski are the tools of the trade, with the chainsaw and mini-excavator rounding out the quiver. Each season as the snow melts, these hearty folk take to the hills with the intention of developing a one-of-a-kind experience for riders, hikers, and bikers. 12-hour days, blinding heat, and choking dust are commonplace in their line of work, yet they get a genuine kick out of watching their creations come to fruition. We are blessed to have so many dedicated individuals out there to build and maintain our intricate trail systems. This season, lend a hand and join them during one of many volunteer days at your favorite shred spot. You will have a deeper sense of appreciation once you do!
Climb and Canyoneer Lamb’s Knoll
There are a few requirements a good crag must meet to be considered a favorite. A plethora of pumpy sport routes, shady spots to rest in between, easy access from the road, and great views. Lamb’s Knoll just outside of Zion meets all these expectations and more. A spot well known for canyoneering, the perfect day might consist of both climbing and descending beautiful slot canyons with breaks to take in the sights. To get there, turn north onto Kolob Terrace Road from Virgin, and drive about ten miles until you see parking on the left. Route information can be found on summitpost.org.
Whenever I find myself staring out the windows of Blondie’s in Hanksville, I know it’s been an amazing trip of desert exploration. I also know, I’m sucking like a Dyson vacuum on my favorite milkshake, a black and white. Doesn’t matter the time of year, nor the adventure, this is one of the more perfect ways to say thanks and good-bye to your fellow adventure buddies before hitting the lonely, open road of SR24. It’s also a great reminder to get back to Hanksville ASAP where adventure unfolds and Blondie’s milkshakes always represent.
Scenic Byway 12
About 120 miles long, Scenic Byway 12 weaves its way south from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park. One of only 40 or so designated “All American Roads,” the road itself is a tourist attraction. But, along the way, be sure to park the car and explore. Hike Cassidy’s Arch, toss a line in Chriss Lake, dive into Upper Calf Creek’s pools, road-bike the Hogback, wade the Escalante, geocache the slickrock, scramble over hoodoos in Devil’s Playground, squeeze through Peekaboo and Spooky, wander the Petrified Forest, and run through Red Canyon tunnels, to mention a small few. Plenty of good eats as well, from tacos in Torrey to coffee in a Kiva. Road trip, anyone?
–Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
Carrying that flask full of delicious whiskey or a can or two of beer in your pack to the yurt or campsite is essential, and must always be balanced between weight and quality. Usually there isn’t enough for the second night, very rarely for the third. While I love the brews our fabulous local breweries are cranking out nowadays, it’s always refreshing to knock back a few lightweight brews while on the drift boat or after a long ride in the desert without getting knocked on my ass. PBR has gotten too tired- I like the mountain brews, Olympia, or Rainier- in cans of course.
Favorite Utah Yurt: Castle Peak Yurt
Here in Utah, we don’t have cushy huts like Colorado or British Columbia. No, we are too hard core for that. We stay in yurts, dammit. These Mongolian-style, canvas shelters are very simple and have few amenities. That is, unless you visit the Castle Peak Yurt in the Uinta Mountains. This yurt has one thing the others lack: a sauna. Alongside the yurt is a tiny shed with a wood-burning stove and benches. The space becomes a heaven for sore muscles when you get the stove real hot, then pour water on it to create steam. Bring a beer, relax with friends, and sweat the night away – there is absolutely nothing better.
The Armory, Maple Canyon
After spending a summer as the Campground Host in Maple Canyon, I came to really love the place. Sure, I got tired of clipping bolts and holding conglomerate cobbles but in general Maple is a special place and a Utah must-visit if you enjoy sport climbing. While I was fortunate enough to see a large portion of the climbs there, I would have to say that one of the most special days was a trip of the Armory. It does have one of the longest approaches in the canyon (40 minutes) and the climb is not technically hard (the most challenging pitch on my favorite route Slamfire goes at 5.9) but the view from the top is absolutely spectacular and it was one of the most remote crags I went to.
Favorite Adventure Buddy
Man and Woman’s best friend. Reliable, loyal and always asking to get outside and play. Dog will take up the entire back seat and patiently wait until the adventure door flies open. Dog will stick their face out the window at 70 mph, loving whatever type of music you have playing. Dog will always be at your feet to trip you up but, that’s just a friendly reminder there’s no other being on this planet who loves you more. Dog is our co-pilot. Dog is our best friend. Now only if (s)he would drive.
An interesting thing happens to the weary adventurer after indulging in an après beer. The torturous hours of slogging uphill in deep snow, grinding across barren landscapes, or jamming bloody appendages into jagged rock crevices seemingly melt away with each sip of that golden nectar. I propose a toast to the artisans who craft these fine fermented fixins. Their diligence in creating the perfect blend of hops, barley, water, and yeast makes each outing that much better. We understand that every locally made libation has a story behind it, perhaps dreamt up on a long slog or mind-clearing jog. Many brewers indulge in the outdoor pursuits Utah has to offer, and I like to think they come up with different flavors for different adventures.
How to Eat at Bryce Canyon
In case you haven’t noticed, The Best Western has a monopoly on the restaurants just outside the park gates at Bryce Canyon, and unless you enjoy hot dogs or buffets filled with iceberg lettuce, you might be left wanting after a day of hiking in the park. Don’t worry, you can always dirtbag it. The gas station next door to Ruby’s Inn Steak Room stocks the most incredible local chocolate bars—grab two. My wrapper is long gone, but I believe the flavor had something to do with s’mores. Pair that with a six-pack of Uinta, also available at the gas station, and you have a dinner of champions.
Bill Barron, Champion for Climate
Climate change has become an obvious threat to winter recreation. Based on this winter, few would dispute that a redistribution of moisture has manifested in the American West, as forecast 20 years ago. Bill Barron, an Alta Ski Patroller, carpenter and picture framer, has dedicated his abundant energy and limited funds to raising awareness for global “weirding” by running for US Senate and campaigning, including by bike, across Utah. Although his coffers are not deep, and he garnered few votes, his message is worthy and did get out. Hats off to Bill for a valiant and ongoing effort.
Base Camp, Hurrah Pass
Base Camp hosts what has become known at the country’s third ranked “most extreme disc golf course.” Being that I find disc golf to be the least extreme sport in which I partake, I appreciate the irony of this classification but understand the reasons why it earned this title. This course is a real disc eater. First of all, you will need to find a vehicle that can get you over Hurrah Pass (high clearance highly recommended). You will then need to be prepared to clear canyons and scramble over sandstone to complete the epic 18-hole course. Don’t go in the heat of the summer. Five dollar donation per player requested.
Favorite Desert Dish
Build a campfire. Ready your Dutch oven. Sautee shredded chicken, onions, red and green peppers in salt, pepper, butter and Mexican chili powder. When finished, remove from fire and place ingredients plus some Mexican cheese onto burrito-sized tortillas. Roll them up, stack in layers in your Dutch oven, cover in enchilada sauce and top with more cheese. Place the Dutch oven with lid on some embers to the side of the campfire; kick back with a desert IPA; and talk about your awesome day!
You know those road trips to the San Rafael Swell, Moab, or Fruita when you want to beat the traffic out of town but somewhere on US 6 start getting hungry enough to eye the deer on the shoulder? Hold on as far as Wellington for a great burrito. Quick, tasty, cheap, open late – possibly the perfect road trip food stop. You can do drive through, but you know it would be better for you to stretch. Perhaps grab a spare breakfast burrito for an alpine start the next morning? Now in Moab as well.
I’m always a little suspicious when my family gives me exercise equipment as gifts. There was the elliptical after my first child. The road bike after my second. Great gifts, I know. But what are they really trying to say? This Christmas it was a pedometer, promising to track my activity and sleep patterns. Not sure what I would do with this information, I agreed to try it at the insistence of my 12YO. And I haven’t taken it off since. It’s great validation on the days when you push it hard. And a pesky reminder on those long days when you have just enough time before dinner for a quick run or a quick beer. Strap one on, because everyone needs a good angel on her shoulder. Or, on her wrist, as the case may be.
-Maggie Hughey AbuHaidar
My favorite hike of late is Grandeur Peak, rising to 8,299 between Millcreek Canyon and Parleys Canyon. The standard route is the eastern route, starting in Church Fork in Millcreek Canyon and ascending 2,340 feet in 3.2 miles. The western route is a genuine thigh burner, starting near the mouth of Parleys Canyon off Wasatch Boulevard. It ascends 3,200 feet in 2.5 miles. The trail is merciless with no shade or water. I prefer to go up the steeper western route and down the easier eastern route, completing the loop with a prearranged bicycle shuttle at the Church Fork trailhead.