Favorite American Drives, Las Vegas to Zion and Bryce National Parks, Utah
A mere ninety minute drive from the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip and you’re in the arid desert of southwestern Utah. It’s a geologist’s dream of twisting red rock walls, craggy peaks, monoliths, buttes, and further east, when you reach Bryce National Park, the colorful standing pinnacles they call hoodoos.
First stop across the state line is Snow Canyon State Park, just outside the growing spa and retirement hub of St. George. Canyon walls looked like they’re clumped together from a playdough kit, curving like a snake around each bend. It’s a perfect place for a hideout. At least, that’s what the producers of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid thought when they filmed part of the movie here. Take a nature walk, a worthy introduction to such desert flora as the white cliff rose flower, the ancient creosote bush, juniper trees, prickly pear cacti, and the silvery leaves of old-man sagebrush.
Less than an hour away is the towering cliff walls of Zion and the canyon walls that slice through the jagged rock. Another ninety minute drive and you reach the spires of Bryce. While you spend most of your time in Zion looking up in awe at the canyon walls, at Bryce, you peer down at the hundreds of hoodoos that line the amphitheater. Inspiration Point is an apt name for the peach, apricot, tan, white, red, and orange rocks that stand at attention like congregants at church. On the Queen’s Garden Trail, stroll down a dusty stone path for a closer look. Behind every hoodoo is another fantastic wall, arch, grotto or cliff to gape at. “It would be a helluva place to lose a cow,” Ebenezer Bryce supposedly said on first sight.
Pack plenty of sunscreen, hats, and water. While Bryce is at an elevation of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, Zion is half that elevation and thus significantly warmer. Try to do most of your walks before or after the hot part of the day, noon to 3 pm. We found the shuttle service in Zion to be excellent, but we opted for our car in Bryce because the bus followed a more circuitous route. Best Western is truly the best out west. The pool at the Best Western Zion Park Inn overlooked the majesty of Zion. Best Western Ruby’s Inn was the first hotel built in Bryce and sits right outside the park boundary.
From Bryce, you can continue on to rarely visited Capitol Reef National Park or head south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (about a 4-hour drive). Or rent a Cadillac like we did and cruise on dirt roads through the Bureau of Land Management to the canyon walls of Lake Powell. That was one wild off-road ride through desolate country.