I'm standing on the spine of a sandstone mountain. On my left: an immense chasm. If I slip, I'll fall 430 metres to the canyon bottom below. On my right: another sheer drop.

I clutch the thick metal chain strung in the middle of the rock like a lifeline, because, well, it is.

It’s moments like this that make me wonder, how on Earth did I get here?

Exploring Utah, Arizona & Nevada’s Best Parks

Angel's LandingAlison Karlene Hodgins

Following in a fellow writer’s footsteps, I planned a week-long roadtrip through three of America’s most beautiful states. I was convinced by videos of petrifying hikes, drawn in with images of shockingly red rock and propelled by a thirst to explore the desert.

I’d hiked in Canada, South Korea, Switzerland and New Zealand. I wasn’t afraid of heights. How different could Arizona, Nevada and Utah really be?

I was about to find out.

 

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona

Grand CanyonAlison Karlene Hodgins

North America’s history can be traced back to the Grand Canyon. Some of the earliest signs of human life in this continent have been discovered here. However, to early explorers, it was a barrier; an impasse. In 1857, Lieutenant Joseph Ives took an adventurous journey to the Grand Canyon and wrote: “it seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.”

Obviously, he was wrong.

Nearly five million visitors set sight on the Grand Canyon every year. At 446 kilometres long and 1,857 metres deep, the Grand Canyon is easily viewable from space. Home to a shocking diversity of plants and animals, the area is respected and protected. Even the small visitor’s area at the South Rim is shrouded in trees, with only a smattering of low-lying lodges and restaurants that don’t interrupt the natural scenery.

Beyond the information centres and souvenir stores is an endless panorama of red, yellow, orange and white rock. Large birds circle above. Far below, the Colorado River runs.

Grand C 2Alison Karlene Hodgins

I start by hiking down Bright Angel Trail 2.4 kilometres to the first rest stop. It feels backwards to begin a hike with a descent. I follow a series of switchbacks along a dirt trail, through two tunnels, and deep into the Canyon.

Before the sunset leaves me in the dark, I turn around and trek back up to the rim. Altogether, it takes me two hours.

 Grand C3Alison Karlene Hodgins

At the Desert Watchtower, I admire the breathtaking vista for the last time. Pictures don’t do it justice; my eyes can barely soak up the entire view. It’s easy to see why Joseph Ives was wrong, and how this immense ridge of sandstone has become an iconic American monument. 

 

Valley of Fire State Park

Nevada

Valley of fireAlison Karlene Hodgins

Right outside the flashing lights, noisy casinos and burlesque shows of Las Vegas is an oasis of red, purple and orange sandstone waiting to be explored.

I hop onboard Pink Jeep Tours to explore 186-square-kilometre Valley of Fire State Park. We’re in the Mojave Desert, but it’s not a wasteland of sand like I’d imagined. Sagebrush, desert mustard, prickly pears and yuccas dot the landscape around us. Bighorn sheep, desert fox, coyotes and bobcats call this vast land home. We’re just visitors.

petroAlison Karlene Hodgins

Hundreds of years ago, the Anasazi left their mark on large rocks in the form of petroglyphs. Although they remain largely untranslated, some are thought to mark food and water sources—a necessity for life out here.


valley of fireAlison Karlene Hodgins

Besides the paved roads and rest stops, it's a barren, harsh land. This area once claimed explorers lives to thirst, hunger and simple desperation. I have to admit, I'm happy to be exploring with modern conveniences and air conditioning. This is not a place I'd like to get lost.

 

Zion National Park

Utah

 Angel's LandingAlison Karlene Hodgins

In 1916, Ethelbert Bingham saw the mountain I'm standing on and exclaimed, “Only an angel could land on that!” Today, Angel’s Landing is one of the most well-known and knee-knocking hikes in Zion National Park.

The first part of the trail, West Rim trail to Scout’s Lookout, follows a series of switchbacks. This is where the most elevation is gained. Walter’s Wiggles has a cute name, but is a serious climb.

In front of us lies the mental challenge. The wind tugs at my sweater as I step across slanted stones and pull myself up sandy stones with the help of the sturdy chain. In some sections, there is no chain, no clearly marked ‘best way’; it’s a lot of guessing, remembering to breathe, and not looking down.

Alison Karlene HodginsAlison Karlene Hodgins

I wish I could tell you the view from the top was the best thing I’ve ever seen, but I was simply too frightened to look around at the summit. As someone who casually dangles her legs over cliff-edges, I was surprised at my newfound fear of heights and impressed with myself for pushing on anyway.

Angels LandinAlison Karlene Hodgins

Initially, my main motivation for planning this USA roadtrip was to hike Angel’s Landing. As I crawl down the terrifying trail, I realise that the descent is just as important as the climb. That coming home is just as valuable as leaving.

Experiencing America’s southwest was life-changing. But now, I’m ready to return to Canada and explore more of my own stunning country. 

 

Disclaimer: Some of these activities were provided as part of a press trip. Opinions are my own.

 

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