How have we been on the road for two months already? On the one hand vanlife feels like our normal life now, as we explore the best slot canyons of Utah and watch as many sunrises and sunsets as we can. On the other this is still all crazy and new. Welcome to our second monthly update on our overlanding adventure!
April was a difficult month on the COVID-19 front. Many states were (and are still) in complete lock-down. Even in Utah, many National and State Parks closed due to COVID-19 which made vanlife incredibly difficult. Our daily tasks involved checking the news and doing a lot of research on where we were going to camp and what we were going to see and do.
Luckily for us, there is one thing Utah has plenty of and it’s called BLM Lands. BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the public lands where it is free for anyone to camp and explore. So that is exactly what we did!
If you missed our other vanlife adventures, you can catch up here:
- Month 1 exploring Oregon
- Month 3 - Hidden Places in Utah
- Month 4 in the Canadian Rockies
- Why we decided to quit our jobs and pursue vanlife
Hole in the Rock Road - Walking Amongst Dinosaurs
We started our second month on the road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has over 1 million acres of BLM land to explore. Hole in the Rock Road is a historic Mormon trail, which has great outdoor activities all along it and as it turns out, some of the best slot canyons in Utah!
While we like to do the occasional hike, here we did 3 hikes in 3 days, all with unique sights through the many different canyons of Utah. We first made an attempt at hiking Zebra Slot Canyon. I say attempt, as when we reached the slot canyon it was partially filled with water. We waded in up to our knees, but it got deep fast and we couldn’t see the bottom anymore after a few feet in. It didn’t help that the water was incredibly cold! We decided to turn back and admit defeat. Luckily, Tunnel Slot Canyon is close-by which saved the hike from being a failure!
Our second hike was the longest, over 9 miles (15 km) including a few river crossings. The day was a bit overcast which was a very welcome change given that we trekked across the desert with nobody else around. We made it to the Golden Cathedral as another hiker was ending a spontaneous concert. The acoustics of the Golden Cathedral are incredible, and her voice was amplified throughout the slot canyon which sounded incredible.
Hole in the Rock Road also offers some other incredible sights, which are much easier to access and worthy of exploring if you are in the area. Devils Garden is full of hoodoos and rock formations, just waiting to be explored. In case you are not familiar with the term, hoodoos are columns of weathered rock and while a pile of rock doesn’t sound overly exciting by itself, these piles are a lot of fun!
For any ancient history and dinosaur lovers, exploring 20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks is a must! The area has over 350 individual dinosaur tracks created by plant eating sauropods over 150 million years ago. The footprints have been preserved over time as they are pressed in sandstone. It is incredible to think that we were walking in the exact same spot as these creatures from so long ago.
Our third hike along the Hole in the Rock Road was our favorite as it includes some of the best slot canyons of Utah. The hike led us to Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon, deep in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The Best Slot Canyons of Utah - Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon
With names like Spooky and Peekaboo, these slot canyons better be good - spoiler alert, we think these are the best slot canyons of Utah! And no, we are not making this up! You start the hike into a dry canyon where access to the slot canyons is relatively quick and easy. We read online that the best route is to start with Peekaboo and end with Spooky, travelling in a loop, so that is exactly what we did.
Peekaboo slot canyon starts with a 12 foot (4 meter) climb up the slick rock to the entrance, which is fairly manageable due to multiple footholds and handholds that have been created in the rock. Once you find yourself in the canyon, you will quickly see where Peekaboo gets its name from! The slot canyon is a compilation of very curvy twists and turns with smooth sandstone.
These curves allow you to play a quick game of peekaboo along the way. We spent at least an hour hiking through the canyon and taking tons of photos along the way. It is probably one of the most photogenic slot canyons in Utah that we have been to. While it starts out quite wide, it does narrow towards the end, such that you will need to take a backpack off and shuffle through sideways.
Once out of Peekaboo, it is a relatively short hike cross-country to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon. Spooky is definitely not for the faint of heart. It is incredibly narrow in spots (we had to take off our backpacks, and shuffle sideways as there wasn’t even enough space to turn our hiking boots sideways). Spooky also has rougher rock and is much deeper and darker than Peekaboo.
The piece-de-resistance is a massive car-size boulder that you need to climb up and over while in the slot canyon, and then proceed to climb back underneath it, and then crawl through a passageway to continue. The fact that we saw a random shoe stuck in a crevice here definitely added to the spookiness! It is manageable though if you are reasonably flexible and take your time to pick the right path. If you are claustrophobic though, this is the most difficult portion of the slot canyon hike.
All in all, this was one of our favorite hikes and both Spooky and Peekaboo live up to their names! The canyons made it one of our favorite days this month and they are easily some of the best hikes and slot canyons of Utah.
Big City Living in St. George, Utah
After a few days spent in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we headed to Cedar City for some rest and relaxation at an Airbnb for a few days. Pizzas were baked, movies were downloaded, and clothes were washed. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and rainy, so we again hit the road to somewhere warm. We headed further south to St. George, Utah, the largest city we had been to in a long time. We were looking for some of the best things to do in St. George, Utah so we hit up In-N-Out take-out for delicious burgers (more than once), indulged in Sugar Cookies take-out (more than once), and went a bit nuts at Costco – all while social distancing of course.
One thing we haven’t really talked about yet is Wal-Mart, the savior of all overlanders and vanlifers in the US. Most Wal-Marts allow overnight camping in their parking lots for free, which is a great way to keep costs down in cities, where camping options are few and far between. Since most campgrounds are closed due to COVID-19, we were even more grateful to have the option to camp at Wal-Mart. We spent a couple nights at the Wal-Mart in St. George, but don’t have any photos to share as it is just a parking lot and not as exciting as hiking through the best slot canyons of Utah!
We wanted to explore the area around St. George and drove to the surrounding forests. One of the great things to do in St. George is taking a quick drive to hike to Yant Flat Cliffs. The Yant Flats are an area with beautiful swirling sandstone and very much reminded us of White Pocket, which we explored just a few weeks ago and which you can read about in our month one update.
Getting to the Yant Flats is an easy 3.4-mile hike from the parking lot (return) and you are rewarded with incredible views, peculiar rock formations, and vibrant orange wavy sand stone. If you are in the area, seeing Yant Flats is one of the best things to do in St. George, Utah, and a hike that is accessible for almost all ages and skill levels. Do be careful if you are hiking on a hot sunny day as there is little to no shade, and the desert heat can quickly become unbearable around midday and lasting well into the afternoon.
Run Forrest Run to Monument Valley
Monument Valley was one of the destinations we were most looking forward to in Utah. But once again, COVID-19 forced us to change our plans as Monument Valley closed. We held off going here as long as possible, hoping the Monument Valley loop would re-open. However after a bit more research we realized that some of the most famous views are actually just from the main highway near Monument Valley, so off we went!
The most famous of all is the Forrest Gump Hill, where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run in the movie with Monument Valley in the background. We were fortunate to have this famous area almost to ourselves. We spoke with one other traveler who had been here before, and said that there are usually tour buses and tons of other travelers at this exact spot.
Luckily there isn’t much traffic on this road so you can take your time taking a lot of photos, although we did have to run to save the tripod more than once as a semi-truck barreled down the highway.
We spent the night camping at nearby Mexican Hat. We’ll let you take a wild guess where this town got its name from.
And while we were in the area, we checked out Goosenecks State Park, also aptly named. Goosenecks State Park seems like a few Horseshoe Bends all in a row. In case you haven’t seen Horseshoe Bend, make sure you read up on it as it is one of our favorite road trip destinations in the Southwest US.
Here at Goosenecks, the San Juan River flows over 6 miles, but only travels about 1.5 miles from East to West as the crow flies, not exactly the most direct route. It is a beautiful place to watch the sunset and take in those beautiful Utah canyon views.
Unearthly Views at Valley of the Gods
Valley of the Gods is the lesser known, slightly smaller version of Monument Valley, but we would have to say that it is almost even more impressive. That is because it is far less popular, and you can enjoy this incredible area with just a few others off in the distance. In addition, there is a ton of Valley of the Gods camping spots, allowing you to choose your favorite view. The valley is made up of many monuments, each towering higher than the last!
Driving along the Valley of the Gods road, each monument has a specific name, and story to tell. Some of our favorites were Santa and Rudolph Butte…
…Lady in a Tub Butte…
… and the suspiciously shaped Castle Butte.
We dragged ourselves out of bed before sunrise and scrambled up the slope above our campsite to take in the sunrise as the sun rays reached each of the monument towers. It was an unearthly sight and definitely worth waking up early for! If you are in to hiking, there are a number of trails throughout Monument Valley to explore.
We can highly recommend spending a night or two in Valley of the Gods camping. As a bonus it is also super close to another one of our other favorite camping spots, Muley Point!
Best Camping Views and Muley Point
We learned about Muley Point a few weeks prior when talking to some other travelers who highly recommended it. Once we saw the pictures of their campsite, we immediately added it to our list. To get there from our Valley of the Gods camping spot, we needed to drive up the twists and turns of the Moki Dugway, which is a road that has been cut into the cliffside and zig-zags to the top near Muley Point.
Once at the top of the plateau, the road to Muley Point is easy and smooth. There are a number of dispersed camping sites here, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. We picked our favorite and set up for the night, enjoying an incredible sunset.
The views from Muley Point are unbelievable. You can see out over the valley with the San Juan River snaking in the foreground and Monument Valley in the background.
A Taste of Moab
We continued our travels through Southeast Utah up to Moab, known for its location next to the famous Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and incredible scenery. Unfortunately, the National Parks are still closed due to COVID-19, and it is actually illegal to camp anywhere in this county at the moment. To avoid breaking the law, we drove out of the county each night to camp.
Fortunately, we were able to look out at Canyonlands National Park in the distance, and we found a few other arches nearby. Stay tuned and on the look-out for the next monthly update to see some of our favorite spots around Moab!
The Stats – Month Two
We created a map and compiled stats so that you can follow along our trip easier and which you can use to plan your own adventure!
Miles driven: 1,188
Nights in Swifty: 28
US States crossed: Utah, Arizona (but we did cross this border 8 times)
Number of Slot Canyons of Utah Hiked: 6
Sugar Cookies Consumed: 12
Number of Nights the Police Woke Us Up and Told Us to Move: 1
Number of Nights We Had to Use the Furnace: 6
Days of Sunshine: 25
Favorite Meal: Burgers at In-N-Out in St. George, Utah
Favorite Campsite: Valley of the Gods, Utah
We are now getting settled in to life on the road, but yearning to experience the full freedom of vanlife. As the COVID-19 closures are gradually re-opened, we have been able to see a few more new sights while still primarily living off the grid and self-isolating. The weather has been spectacularly warm for what we are typically used to for April, which has definitely kept our spirits high. And hiking some of the best slot canyons of Utah was a great highlight!
We are looking forward to the next month on the road as news of Utah’s National Parks gradually reopening are being announced, giving us a hint as to what is to come.
The Night the Police Woke Us Up
Oh, and if you are wondering about the stat of the number of nights the police woke us up and told us to move: here it is. We were camping in a park near a city. The spot was well known online and there were many reviews of people camping here, as recently as one week prior, without any issues. There were no “No Camping” signs in the area, and we didn’t think twice about camping there as we set up and went to bed. However, at 12:30AM there was a loud knock on the door and a man yelling “Police.”
We were jolted awake, jumped out of bed immediately, and had flashlights shone in our faces. The policeman was very nice and apologized for waking us up. He told us it was a city park and that we couldn’t camp there, but there was public land a few miles down the road where we could go. So we packed up Swifty and made our way over to another campsite with our hearts still racing. It was fair to say that Bettina almost had a heart attack because of the entire situation. Overall, it was not a big deal, but definitely a night to remember!
Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!
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