Arizona and Utah itinerary
Arizona and Utah are much more than the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. These two states stand out for its vast nature, reflected in its varied deserts, mountain ranges, canyons, impressive rock formations... As well as roads in the far wild west. In short, get ready to discover one of the most spectacular corners of the universe! Here lies "THE GRAND CIRCLE", an unusual circular region on Earth with a huge number of geologically amazing places in such a small space, including National Parks and Monuments. Most of these wonders are between Arizona and Utah and are connected by "movie" roads.
Image from: https://www.viajecostaoeste.com/page-arizona/
Here, little can be done, other than crossing to the Mexican neighbor and eat some delicious tacos. Just get ready to travel through cactus-laden deserts listening to country music!
TUCSON AND SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK
In the middle of the Arizona desert, surrounded by some of the most spectacular cactus species on the planet, this beautiful and elegant city stands out. But what really makes Tucson an interesting place for the traveler is its surroundings, where the huge saguaros cactus await you. There are several places where you can see them, being probably the best one the Saguaro National Park.
Photo from national-park.com
An additional excursion if you have extra time is to visit some nearby town, such as Mammoth, where you can climb a little hill and contemplate the desert in silence and absolute peace.
PAINTED DESERT AND PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Already in the foothills of the Grand Circle. An exciting place formed by small hills that cover the entire color palette: red, blue and even green! Most of the park is designed to be traveled by car on the only road that crosses it stopping at each viewpoint and enjoying the amazing rock formations of unreal colors from above. So this Park may not seem like it offers many avenues for independent hiking, but it's not like that: it hides a magnificent secret, so stay tuned. From the Interpretation Center starts a path that descends to the bottom, to an area that looks like Mars. Here the walk is free (the trail ends once you hit bottom) and it is allowed to spend the night in this Martian landscape where everything is red and wonderfully beautiful. You can just walk a few kilometers through this crazy desert landscape and set up your own camp or you can make a multi-day route (to camp down there you need to get a free permit at the Interpretation Center). But be careful, there are no trails down there and it's very easy to get lost.
And the secrets are not over! In this part, particular fossils await: rocks! These rocks, due to the climatic and geographical conditions of the area (extreme heat during the day and glacial cold at night) have suffered a physical process that has led them to have that fossil appearance and, as they are everywhere, this specific area has been called Petrified Forest. They are really cool!
The other thing that you have to see (if you find them) are some cave paintings that are embodied in a large red rock. By the way, the famous Route 66 passes nearby. Go and take a look and discover an old fashion car from the time it was built. A petrified car!
CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT
Amazing set of deep red-walled canyons that, in addition to beauty, breathes history. Here once inhabited the Asanazi Indians, whose legacy has been captured in the caves and crevices of the Cañón de Chelly and the Cañón del Muerto in the form of small houses and cramped buildings. Today these lands belong to the native Navajo community, although they are not many who remain there living, even less rooted in their pastoral way of life.
Unfortunately, and fortunately at the same time (due to environmental protection issues), you cannot visit almost anything inside the canyons on your own. The excursion with guide (a Navajo one of course) to the depths is quite expensive, about 100 dollars... But don't worry if you don't have that budget. There are two roads that run along the north and south rim of the canyon, and believe me you will be fascinated by the views from the different viewpoints. In this way you can see many of the interesting formations that make this Park so amazing, including the most famous one, the Spider Rock, a sandstone spire that rises 230 meters from the base of the canyon.
In addition, you can go down to the bottom at a point enabled to walk a couple of kilometers. This is the White House Trail, which ends in one of those buildings tucked into the walls that I was talking about before. From the guided tour you will miss the many petroglyphs projected on the red walls and, above all, the magnificent encounter with the Navajo culture. Not only with the guide, but with some of the few families that still live in little houses along these canyons. You cannot have everything in life! There is a campground near the entrance and the Visitor Center. Dogs are only allowed in the viewpoints and short walks around the rim.
PAGE AND AROUND
Anodyne population at first sight on the banks of the Colorado River, on the border of Arizona with Utah. But nothing could be further from the truth: Page hides a range of places rarely seen. The Pacha Mama has put all its efforts in this part of the planet. Its magic lies in the spectacular surroundings, lands of the native community of the Navajos. And we can visit all these places with our dogs. There are quite a few places to highlight:
Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam (a giant dam). Among the various campsites on the shores of the lake I recommend Lone Rock Beach. It is very primitive (because there is no bathroom) and very cool, with rocks that show red and white layers. There is also a boat tour, getting into the ramifications of this special lake.
Horse Hoe Bend. Impressive and vertiginous, the Horse Hoe Bend is one of the most photographed meanders of the Colorado River. And on top it's free! This horseshoe curve is only 3 miles below Page.
Antelope Canyon. A beautiful clay-colored slot canyon filled with impossible curves. The snag, you will need money: $ 60 per adult (year 2017). It belongs to the Navajo native people and they do not beat around the bush by setting the entrance price for the hordes of tourists that come to visit and photograph this incredible place.
Marble Canyon. If you want to visit something on your own, come to this canyon, right on the Colorado River. The red colors of the river and the steep walls that flank it, as well as the environment of the "wild west" are worth a visit. The Navajo Bridge is a long bridge that crosses the Marble Canyon. A very cool trip to do here is the one that takes you along the Lees Ferry Road. On the same road you will see the Balanced Rocks, this is gigantic petrified "mushrooms". A bit further, from that same road part the Cathedral Wash Trail, which takes you to a remote area of the Colorado River through wonderful red rock formations (the way back and forth takes about 2 hours).
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. This National Monument houses remote places of stratospheric beauty, needing for most of them special permits (it is intended to preserve the natural heritage of this odyssey to nature). For example, "The Wave". Only a select few can visit it! You need to apply to a sort of draw that allows the entry of 20 people a day (you cannot do it on your own). Many people apply and the selection process is long. So if you are backpacking you'd better discover other sensational places in the area, which as you see are not few.
Photo by Denali Daniels
GRAND STAIRCASE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Gigantic extension of mountains and high colored plains with a surreal geology. Red and white predominate, but there are also brown, gray and others painting the landscape. The most spectacular are the strange and amazing rock formations scattered throughout the "Monument": arches, columns, "balanced rocks", mountains with marked layers/strata... It is like walking on a lifeless planet, since you will hardly see small plants and some other bird. Although there is no trace of green plants, there is also room for small rivers and waterfalls. For those who seek more cultural contact, there are also some rock paintings or petroglyphs projected on the rocks. There are many accessible routes to do on your own, so if you have time, hike and enjoy this wonder. If you only have one or two days you can ask at the Visitor Center for recommendations. Dogs are welcome here!
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Wonderful Park composed of geological formations up to 150 million years old, coming from sedimentations that occurred during the Mesozoic Era. There is a lot to see and do, starting with the Zion Canyon, 800 meters deep of red sandstone walls. The views of the canyon from the Angels Landing (viewpoint that is reached after a one hour trail) are so spectacular that it is not surprising that the Park bears its name.
There are many other hiking trails that include views of arches and other formations (Kolob Arch, The Three Patriarchs, the Kolob Canyons...), rivers meandered by gorges, cave paintings (the first groups of Amerindians arrived 8000 years ago)... Wild camping is not allowed in Zion NP but there are three or four campsites. You can camp wherever you want in the forests that are outside. The exit of the Park will be a spectacle, crossing an unforgettable mountain road. Dogs are only allowed in the campgrounds, the roads and a dog friendly trail.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Another visual delight and of all the senses. A show of impossible formations in which you can only see, breathe, hear and feel the immensity of the work of nature. It is not the typical canyon that we all imagine. Rather it is a labyrinth full of cliffs, columns or sculpted spirals ("hoodoos"), high promontories, deep canyons, arches and other mysterious formations adorned with bright colors: red, orange, pink and white. Hikes can be made by the "rim" (high zone), where the formidable panoramics stand out, feeling one as if contemplating a crazy amphitheater (there are up to 13 viewpoints in the Park). But even more incredible is to enter the lower area, walking between all these columns that the wind and water have created. Some natural sculptors that give us a magnificent work of art.
Just like in Zion, dogs are only allowed in the campgrounds, the roads and a dog friendly trail. Free camping is not allowed, except for a couple of long marches (the 14-kilometer Long Riggs Loop Trail and another 37-kilometer trail), and with prior permission. If you have a car and your idea is to make the short trails, you could camp in some clearing of the beautiful and huge Dixie National Forest, which surrounds the Park on the north. There is BLM and, therefore, you can pitch your tent where you want (and save the expensive camprgounds in Bryce Canyon). By the way, to the south it delimits with the Grand Staircase National Monument, northern section.
One of the most impressive highways I have ever seen, at least from this section of Utah to the detour to Moab. The road runs through a high plateau of inhospitable and isolated lands where there is hardly any life (of course, few human settlements...). Amazing mountains, beautiful lakes (frozen in winter!), stretches between narrow mountain walls... And finally you reach one of the most spectacular areas of the States: Moab, Arches NP and Canyonlands NP.
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Before reaching Moab you can deviate towards this National Park, in the middle of the rocky desert. I do not know it, but it is famous for its canyons and gorges, cliffs, arches and other impressive geological formations. Also, good news! In addition to a more "urban" campsite, there are a couple of primitive camping areas... For free! This happens little in a National Park of USA. Wild camping during long routes requires a permit available at the visitor's center (nor does it seem that they charge for the permit). I guess dogs have only access to certain areas.
Village located in a beautiful wild setting, with the mountains as a backdrop and the Colorado River at its feet. My favorite area of the USA without a doubt. The town as such does not have much to do, but the red and rocky environment offers infinite possibilities to the traveler. This area is famous for the amount of rock formations such as arches and bridges. Arches NP and Canyonlands NP, a few km north and south, respectively, are just the tip of this beautiful iceberg (we will see them in the next two sections, as they deserve a separate mention). All around Moab is full of trails for walking or cycling (some in 4x4 too). Dogs are always welcome around here! Practically on foot you can do endless excursions. For example:
Corona Arch Trail. A trail that starts from the Colorado River, a few kilometers below Moab. The landscape is so beautiful, passing a railway line that looks like something out of a western, mountain areas and walls of red sandstone, flatter and more bare areas... And the best is at the end, after turning a corner: an amazing arch at the top of a canyon.
In addition to enjoying the Corona Arch, you will enjoy the views down the canyon. You can climb the mountain behind the arch for even more fantastic views. The trail will not take you more than 2 hours (round trip). By the way, there is a wall with petroglyphs on the same road, one kilometer from the start of the trail.
Negro Bill Canyon Trail. It also starts from the Colorado river itself, but this time north of Moab. It is a beautiful route through this small canyon, parallel to a stream and ending in a magical arch that buries a cave. The walk is not particularly long (about 7 km round trip), but you will want to stop all the time to rest, contemplate the flora, take pictures, swim in the river...
Other arches: Funnel Arch, Window Arch, Little Arch... It is worth getting lost a bit in the mountains that are to the south, north, west and east of the city.
Dead Horse Point State Park. It offers great views of a meander of the Colorado River. 40 minutes drive from Moab. In fact, it is on the route to Canyonlands NP.
Colorado River kayak or rafting. Or just relax on the shore of one of the most famous rivers in the world.
For lodging you can camp freely almost anywhere in the surroundings of Moab, although there is no lack of offer of real campsites. I recommend, especially in winter, the Lazy Lizard Hostel, which is also a campground. It is not expensive, they do allow pets (only in tents) and you can enjoy a truly travel atmosphere like in few places in the States (you don't see many hostels in the country). Perfect to meet people and share.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Another sensational ode to geology and erosion processes! Its name says it all: here there are arches everywhere. More than 2000 sandstone arches are found in the Park, becoming the place with the highest concentration of arches in the world. There are many other attractions though: caves, rock columns, etc. The Park is not large, and is crossed from south to north by a road with small branches that lead to magnificent viewpoints that overlook the valley, and small trails where different arches and other formations await. The most popular arch is Delicate Arch, of incomparable beauty.
Photo by Denali Daniels
The only moderately long route is the Devils Garden Trail, highly recommended (at least hiking a part), given the amount of arches that can be seen along it. There is a campsite at the doorstep of the Devils Garden Trail itself. A spectacular place to sleep, just below all those prodigious works of nature. The trouble is that it is difficult to find a spot on the fly. By the way, be attentive to the deer as they love to wander around here! Dogs are only allowed in the campground, roads and viewpoints.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
My favorite park! Well, or should we say Parks? Because Canyonlands NP is divided into different districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze. The Park preserves a colorful landscape eroded in innumerable canyons, plateaus and hills by the Colorado River, the Green River and their respective tributaries, and although these areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, each possesses its own personality. Dogs are supposed to be restricted to certain areas.
The Island in the Sky, North Zone. Its name is due to the fact that it is an extensive plateau that rises hundreds of meters above a Martian valley in which the Colorado and Green rivers converge. A spectacular show in which it seems that the earth has cracked. The most amazing views of the universe! There are several trails that run along the rim (edge), obtaining different panoramic views, each more crazy than the previous one.
You can also make other short walks through the mountains. And here we go with the best of the Park. This sector of the Park houses an impressive arch: Mesa Arch. A picture is worth a thousand words:
The Needles, South Zone. This section is as much or more spectacular. The views of canyons that seem to have been split with axes and walking among rocks sculpted by the forces of nature make The Needles a must. Unlike the Arches NP, where many arches are accessible with short or moderate walks or even by car, most of the arches in the Needles district are in inland canyons and require long walks or trips in 4x4 vehicles to get to them (there are many primitive campsites). It is a very wild area that offers the explorers thirsty for adventure views of unforgettable places, such as gorges, canyons and arches of an extraterrestrial beauty. You can also see some petroglyphs in this area (eg in the Newspaper Rock, next to the Visitor Center).
The Maze, South area too. It is a remote area of difficult access. But if you make it, be ready to make some good hikes through mountain ranges of the desert. You can also get to the very banks of the Colorado River. It has a handful of wild campsites.
NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT
Another beautiful natural area, witnessing the union of the Blanco Canyon with the Armstrong Canyon, which are part of the Colorado River basin. But its popularity is due to the fact that here is one of the eight largest natural bridges in the world (Sipapu). You can travel by car on the circular road stopping at the viewpoints and doing some small excursion on foot. But you can also go down to the depths of the canyon and explore a little on your own. Dogs have only access to certain areas.
Maybe it is of interest to someone! It is the only point where four states converge (Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico). There is a monument to take a picture and show you have been there. Sometimes it is good to disconnect a bit from nature and do something different, right? And this is the kind of thing everybody loves to do!
One of the icons of Arizona and Utah (I say both because it is literally in the middle). Scene of so many western movies (and others: Forrest Gump, Back to the Future...). Famous all over the world, Monument Valley is a depression in the middle of the desert from which intriguing monoliths sprout, shaped by wind and rain for millions of years. The best thing is to watch in silence this work with the first or the last rays of the sun (less people, cool temperatures, vermilion colors in all its apogee).
There is a single circular track, about 25-30 km in length, that surrounds the valley. Admission is $ 20 per vehicle. You can additionally hire a Navajo guide, but I don't know how much could cost you. And you will be wondering, fuck, do I have to pay for it? Well, not necessarily! For low budget travelers there is also a magnificent option to enjoy the spectacular Monument Valley from the Visitor Center viewpoint. Jut the amazing views from here are worth the visit (I did not step a foot on the circular road, for example). But another reason to come is the roads and landscapes of the Far West that you need to travel to get here. If you come from the Natural Bridges National Monument (roads 261 and 163) you will understand what I am saying. Dogs are welcome!
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs all over the world... With all of you: The Grand Canyon of the Colorado! Here we have another work of the Pacha Mama to delight all our senses. There are two zones, the north and the south (the north one is closed in winter). Most people who visit the Grand Canyon do it on the south side and stay at the rim. That is, they see it from above, without entering the depths through which the Colorado River flows. The Desert View Dr Road runs parallel to the Canyon and the views from the different viewpoints are simply wonderful. Also, you can do a little walk around the edge.
Although this will already have been worth the visit of many, for a more complete excursion, to live the Canyon to the full, it is advisable to penetrate into its bowels. The most amazing thing about this excursion is to see how the vegetation changes little by little - and the landscape in general - as you go down. Until you reach the Colorado River! Going deeper and deeper leaving behind spectacular views is priceless. In the lower area you will probably see wildlife (some deer, birds, etc). But beware, you have to be in shape, because the return will be a tough one (1400-1500 meters deep). There are different paths that go down and circulate in there. The most popular is to make a kind of loop or circular trail, starting the descent from one point and returning to the top for another. So, you can combine, for example, the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail, and see a different landscape in the way back... If you still have the strength to watch around! This combined route accumulates about 25 km in total, being almost half of it going up. It can be done in a day (about 8 hours at a good pace), but if you have time it is much better spend a couple of days, staying with your tent in the heart of the canyon. That way you will make it more relaxed, being able to make more breaks, and you will surely enjoy it more. Those shapes and colors of the rocks, the smells, the red river, the fauna that lives there... They deserve more time. When will you be able to return to the Grand Canyon!?
There are several campsites in which to spend the night, and reservation and previous registration is required in the Visitor Center (registration is also needed for the excursion without overnight). If you still want to know more about the Grand Canon you can make other long journeys. A very interesting one is the one that crosses the river and ends in the North Rim, the north face (closed route in winter).
Note 1. Dogs only have access to the paths and viewpoints of the rim. So unfortunately you cannot go down with your buddy. There is a "kennel" service, where you can leave your dog in good hands if you decide to do a long route. The cost is about 20-25 dollars per day, and he/she can sleep on the cage. Of course it is not what we would love to do (we would like to take our dogs down!), but at least it is an option for hikers who dream to know the Grand Canyon and travel with their dogs.
Note 2. In summer it is crowded, so campsites may not have availability. In that case one option would be to sleep in the car and get up early to make the trip to the depths in a day.
City with a nice center and good atmosphere. But if for something I include it in this itinerary, it is due to its proximity to beautiful natural areas (besides the recently mentioned Grand Canyon NP, just over an hour and a half by car). In fact, it is immersed in the Coconino National Forest, surrounded by forests, mountains and even desert areas. A few steps away is the highest peak in Arizona, Humphreys Peak (3850 m), and two National Monuments: Walnut Canyon and Wupatki.
Photo from flagstaff.com
The Petrified Forest NP (described above) is also not far away, less than 2 hours east. And to the south, is the beautiful desert area of Sedona, which we will see below. You can sleep in the Walwart car park with your car.
These lands have healing properties according to legend... And fully supported by the hippies that live in its mountains! The fact is that this small town in the middle of the desert has become a kind of spiritual mecca and world power point that has attracted healers, artists and spiritualists. I do not believe much in these things, but I would not be surprised if their beautiful deserts and mountains healed and gave strength to more than one. It is a magical place, of course.
There are many places to get lost in the surroundings, discovering flora and fauna of the desert, bathing in small streams, climbing summits to see everything from above... By the way, the road that leading from Flagstaff is stunning, passing through lush forests, then descending to this more arid area.