Magnificent Five plus Awesome Threesome equals an amazing experience

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By Robert Gorden

For those RVers who have the desire and capacity to truly enjoy, appreciate and savor the overwhelming beauty and majesty of the geological features of southern Utah and northern Arizona, I strongly recommend a tour of the Magnificent Five and the Awesome Threesome.

A self-guided tour of the five national parks and three national monuments — plus several state parks and national forests — is an amazing experience available to those who dare risk such scenic wonders.

The travel route outlined here leads efficiently and effectively with little lost time and expense to a maximum exposure of these unique and diverse natural geological wonderlands. You may begin the tour at any point on the route and proceed in either direction to the next park, monument or federal land.

Dozens of books, hundreds of thousands of photos and millions of written and spoken words have been presented by far better writers, speakers and photographers than I as they have attempted to describe the beauty of these parks and monuments.

Perhaps the most eloquent and compelling descriptions are made by those who see, feel, enjoy and savor the beauty in silence and amazement.

When we see the towering cliffs, deep, rugged canyons, hoodoos, winding streams and rivers, individual and associated huge rocks, boulders and spires along with the interconnected ecological habitats and living creatures of all types, and are then unable to find the words, thoughts or expressions to display our inner appreciation, we may be offering the greatest compliment to nature.

It is not just the size, variety, diversity, range of colors and tones that defy description. Rather it is the sense of our own insignificance, the brevity of our existence and of our meager impact on the earth and its inhabitants in relation to the immensity of geological time and the forces of change.

A thesaurus may offer many additional superlatives as synonyms for “magnificent” and “awesome.” However, any true words may be used as descriptors as long as no small, trivial, negative or common words are used to describe the beauty of the Magnificent Five and Awesome Threesome.

My chosen route began at the junction of Arizona Hwy. 89 and 89A. Moving westward via 89A, the first stop was at Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The very nice campground overlooks the Colorado River, is surrounded by the Vermillion Cliffs and is about six miles off 89A near the site of the original river crossing.

From Lee’s Ferry, proceed through the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument to Jacob’s Lake on the Kaibab Plateau at the junction of highways 89A and 67, where a recently renovated campground is located.

An easily traveled 55 miles on 67 leads to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. However the north rim was closed in mid-April, so I bypassed that day trip and went north on 89A to Kanab, Utah, and further to the intersection of Scenic Bypass Route 9.

Photo by Rich Martello on Unsplash

Zion National Park

There are a few small RV campgrounds nearby where people may park an RV and take the toad into Zion National Park. It is possible to RV into and through Zion, but an escort is required because the tunnel allows only one way traffic for large vehicles.

The national park campgrounds at the Zion Visitor Center are just inside the west entrance and are very easy to access from the west. The east entry is not so easy and is a challenge for large RVs, but not impossible. Check at the entrances for clearance, if necessary.

After the visit to Zion return to Hwy. 89, travel northward to Scenic Bypass 12 and turn east toward Bryce Canyon National Park.

Photo by Sheena Woodhead on Unsplash

Bryce Canyon National Park

The gateway to the Dixie National Forest is a welcome introduction to the hoodoos of Bryce. At Bryce Canyon there are plenty of private and national park campgrounds. The national park campground is quite acceptable for boondocking and is far less expensive than the private parks.

After a few days at Bryce, continue on Hwy. 12 up the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

At the small town of Cannonville, Utah, the excitement of the drive begins. Side trips to Kodachrome and Petrified Forest State Parks add a certain diversity.

Two other small state parks are enroute up the Staircase. RVs less than 26 feet are welcome at Calf Creek Recreation Area, one of my favorite campgrounds.

Proceeding across the narrow backbone ridge of the Staircase leads to absolutely super views of this huge national monument.

Rising out of Boulder, Utah, the drive begins a long and twisting RV trail to the 9,600-foot elevation of the pass. Many small campgrounds dot the mountainside, but most do not welcome large RVs.

Photo by Tracy Zhang on Unsplash

Capitol Reef National Park

Shift to a low gear for an equally taxing descent to Torry, Utah, the town nearest to Capitol Reef National Park. Then turn east on Route 24 and take the downhill slide into the Capitol Reef visitor center at Fruita, Utah.

A beautiful RV and tent campground is located one mile south of the visitor center. The abundant deciduous trees were beginning to leaf out when I stayed there for three days in late April, with anticipation of nicely shaded sites during the summer.

It is difficult to imagine a more peaceful and inspiring area than this section of Capitol Reef.

Travel east on Hwy. 24 to Hanksville and then north to Interstate 70. Go east past Green River and turn south at Hwy. 191 toward Moab, Utah, and find a campground to use as a base for trips into Canyonlands and Arches national parks.

An alternate route at Hanksville is Hwy. 95 south to Blanding, Utah, and an intersect with Hwy. 191. Althought I have not yet done so, this route allows stops in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and at the Natural Bridges National Monument. At Blanding drive north on Hwy. 191 to Moab.

Photo by Natalie Acheatel on Unsplash

Canyonlands National Park

At Moab there are several private RV resorts and campgrounds. Check at the visitor centers regarding the small campgrounds in both Arches and Canyonlands National Park. Also, a campground is available at Dead Horse State Park, just outside the entrance to Canyonlands.

For really nice boondocking campgrounds on federal land, follow Utah Hwy. 128 east from Moab along the Colorado River. Many of the campsites are located directly on the river bank, and cost about $15/night and offer a 50% discount for seniors.

After visits to Arches and Canyonlands your tour may continue south toward Blanding and then eastward to the Hovenweep, Utah, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments — or even further to Mesa Verde National Park.

The latter parks are on my “to do” list and were not a part of this tour.

The entire tour covers a distance of 600 or more miles of RV travel plus a few hundred miles of toad travel for day trips.

How fortunate I am to have visited these five great national parks and three wonderful national monuments in southern Utah, plus a quick stop in the Colorado National Monument at Grand Junction, during a span of two weeks.

And then top that with a morning spent in the lovely and picturesque towns of Ouray and Ridgeway, Colo., followed by a move eastward to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and various small mining towns of the region.

Indeed, I realize there are millions of Americans and billions of people on this earth who have not, nor ever will, have even one day in their life that is equal to the hundreds of days of pleasure that I have enjoyed in visits to national parks and monuments.

They will never see this beauty, never hear the silence, never touch the rocks, streams, flowers or have their hearts touched in a special way. In most cases they will never have the slightest idea or concept of what they have missed or are missing.

What a true sense of freedom and peace to be able and capable of traveling in my RV and see these sights across our great country.

In nine days, I drove 910 miles in Aly, my RV, stayed in six different campgrounds in three different states. Hundreds of additional miles have been covered in Vue, my toad, and too few miles have been walked in my hiking boots.

Yes, I have seen and watched others, more active than I, hiking, biking, ATVing, climbing, sliding and rafting in places that I can no longer invade. However, these risk takers are too few. Millions of Americans never leave their small communities and have little or no idea that real, vibrant, natural biological and geological worlds exist in our national parks and monuments.

They fail to realize that they may become a part of those world,s if they would chose to take the first and following steps toward this natural paradise.

My inadequate attempts to describe the scenic beauty of the Magnificent Five and Awesome Threesome will be presented in additional blogs. Each of the parks and monuments is distinctively beautiful in a unique way. Each is above and beyond the power of mere words and must be experienced and appreciated in a very personal manner.

Robert Gorden

Robert Gorden

Dr. Robert Gorden is a retired environmental engineer and head of the Aquatic Biology Department at the University of Illinois. Today, he is a frequent RVer who enjoys travel writing.

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  • Mike says:

    Since we live in Prescott this will be a great trip for us

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