Gone Wild in Utah

family in the waterfall

After recalling some of our greatest road trip moments, we realized we have gone wild in Utah twice in six months. We broke in our RV with a trip to Zion. Then visited some of the southern regions in our 10 Day Quest in the Southwest. It became blatantly apparent when we arrived back home that we hadn’t had enough and we knew there was much left to uncover. So, we decided to devote an entire trip to revel in its beauty.

We had returned from our last adventure during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. Despite the bizarre condition of the world, we found ourselves comfortably at home, surrounded in love and gratitude. We were positioned in a way where we didn’t suffer some of the direct devastation of the inevitable economic disaster that was sure to follow. We did, however, struggle to find normalcy for our daughter. Removing a four year old from the world and human interaction, and be forced to hold her captive was somewhat maddening. I imagine this feeling resonates with every parent that experienced the global shutdown with kiddos at home. As soon as we saw restrictions lifted and campgrounds open, we insisted on getting her out of the house to exercise her wiggles in the great outdoors.

Day 1- Four states in 24 hours

The focus of our trip was found in the Northern Utah area but we wanted to take our time making our way, giving opportunity to make stops along the road without feeling rushed. We decided to split up the first leg of the trip by stopping outside of Vegas for a night. I-15 provides a slew of unique sights just off the road and its worth allotting a few extra minutes for discovery. On the way north, we hopped out to capture photos at Seven Magic Mountains at Jean Dry Lake Bed.

We were lucky enough to make it to this colorful installation during sunset and we chased daylight around these fascinating stacked boulders. We have seen the magic mountains from the road before, but this was the first time we decided to measure ourselves up to the vibrant rock columns. We did have to carefully navigate around the other visitors without interrupting their photo ops, but it was a small sacrifice in order to experience such a cool side-of-the-road attraction. Bryn balanced rocks in the cairn garden on the way back to the bus, and it felt like the perfect kickoff to another epic adventure.

We carried on to boondock for the night at Government Wash Lake Mead Recreational area, but arrived to find it was closed. It was hard to find information on public land Covid closures and knew there was a chance we would have to find a plan B. The wash was positively reviewed in boondocking forums, so we would try that next time. Lucky for us, Poverty Flats were just another 45 minutes up the road and we found it to be the perfect secondary option. We have come to enjoy the tradition of getting completely off the grid for our first night of camping. We use the isolation as a catalyst to disconnect from reality and reconnect with one another and nature.

We arrived at the flats around 10PM but weren’t quite ready to tuck in. Bryn came out to have an all-nighter with us, which was so much fun. She has a strict bedtime at home, but on anything goes on the road. She walked, barefooted through the craggy rock bed and impressed us with her mental fortitude as we saw her push through the discomfort in her feet. She must have felt the power of grounding herself into the bare earth. We had a family shadow puppet performance on side of the RV, and searched for Murray the Moose. If you have read about our Troll hunting, you know it’s a tradition to send Bryn on scavenger hunts for little friend figurines, while we are hiking. Its a great way to keep a young kiddo on the move and aware of her surroundings, with what feels like an element of magic and surrealism for her. I wish I could see the world through her new eyes, and hope she always has room for imagination.

We decided to retire for the night after realizing we were sitting in some sort of horror movie as we were being attacked by bugs. We didn’t have hookups at this campground and felt it was too hot to run the generator so we camped in a hundred degree hot pocket, making it difficult to drift away to dreamland. Jason surprised me with Cooling Towel which swiftly made its way onto my list of “must haves” for camping. I was laying in bed watching daddy and Bryn conjure up spells to place onto the cool towel, in the sink. I choked out something between a giggle and cry watching my two favorite people in the world goof off together. I had visions of us floating along in space, perfectly content, tucked away together in our tiny loving RV. Mama went to sleep while dad and Bryn stayed up playing till the wee hours of the night. 

Day 2- Sow-king in Meadow Hot Springs

The early sun peeked through our windows with a shimmery “good morning” and we felt ready to keep moving and find our next destination. We wandered outside for a bit and found a bearded dragon whom Bryn was totally enamored with. He was sunbathing on a rock and graciously let us hang out to admire his fantasy-like reptilian charm. He allowed Bryn some pets and she kissed her finger and stamped his back with love powers before saying goodbye, then we pushed on through Arizona and up to Fillmore, Utah.

Off the freeway, down a smooth six mile dirt road that leads through a cow pasture, you’ll discover the (free) hidden gem that is Meadow Hot Springs. It is exactly what it sounds like. There are two hot springs in the middle of a sweeping meadow. Cows are grazing nearby with big beautiful open views all around. It felt pleasantly primitive. Bryn swam around the first hot spring, holding the much needed stability rope, then picked moss and watched it swirl around like hair, underwater. She made the slippery embankments into slides and practiced her mermaid kicks. Jason played handpan, which has become a glorious tradition throughout our travels. We all soaked in the warm water long enough to feel relaxed but not so long that we would be rendered incapable of putting one foot in front of the other to move on down the road.

After we left our swimming hole, we shot up to the KOA in Salt Lake City. This was our first time staying at a KOA and we were quite happy with our choice. Most national and state park campgrounds were still closed and Salt Lake City is centrally located to many of the attractions we had on our list. This campground is beautiful, clean, and private. Its very well maintained and felt homey. We explored the area on bikes while we watched the sun set.

sunset and bike rides

Day 3- Falls & Flats

Donut Falls

We afforded ourselves a day to sleep in and take some time enjoying our weekend neighborhood. The RV park has perfect sprinting straightaways so I took a quick tour by foot. When I passed our camp, Bryn was cheering me on and I knew I couldn’t slack off with her watching. I peeled around the corner and she wanted to jump in for a run with me. The fierceness in her eyes gave me no choice but to agree. She took off like a bat outta hell and finished the run with me. When that sweet powerhouse shows up for something, she sure shows up! We came back to the stud working out in our front patio and gathered him up to get back into the wilderness.

We headed into the Watasch National Forest for a 3.5 mile hike to Donut Falls in Big Cottonwood Canyon. It was a somewhat busy trail but never felt crowded. It was actually really refreshing to see other humans in the wild, breathing in the fresh air while we all still have air in our lungs. The hike leads you to a pretty impressive waterfall after you make your way through various squirrel guarded hallways of trees. It felt like a storybook which made it was easy enough to stay cheerful all day.

This trail gave perfect opportunity for Bryn to test her photography skills. She seems to enjoy that point of view, which I understand. Sometimes taking pictures helps to recognize beauty through a more focused lens. I find myself snapping pictures of bark half the time. Someone may look at that picture and simply see a picture of a tree close up but i see shredded layers and depth of moisture elevated by the contrast of tones. I don’t particularly care about the result, but have fun in the creative process. Nature offers the most spectacular images, even if they are only stored in your brain. I like to think she is training herself to see more than meets the eye.

Bonneville Salt Flats

We were a bit worn out from hiking during the heat of the day but had some daylight to squeeze in a bit more scenery. I had an internal conflict of interest when deciding on a plan because the Bonneville Salt Flats were on my bucket list but really far out of the way for something that is exactly what it sounds like. Salt flats, and that’s it. For miles. My sweet love followed my lead and drove us two hours down the hypnotic road to the famous spot, to arrive just in time to catch the “golden hour”.

Bonneville has been famous for over a century of salt crusted speedway racing. After visiting this jaw-dropping natural wonder, I have a new reason to go back. That would be an exhilarating experience. The stark whiteness against the baby blue skies would transport you into another dimensions as you watch the vehicles fly by at upwards of 400-500 mph. The thought gives me the chills.

We kept our speed to more of a slow roll as we danced around salted earth. The views were something that can only truly be described through firsthand sight. There might not be anything around you but a white desert floor but it seems to inspire plenty of activity. People were having picnics, we could see photoshoots underway in the distance, and every so often you’d hear a throaty growl of a car engine or motorcycle that appears out of nowhere, to be gone in a flash.

We had arrived around 7:00PM and knew we had a little over an hour till it got dark so we had a blast capturing photos of each other in the light of dusk. It is very easy to find seclusion as you walk further from the parking area and disappear into a mirage. In our private area, I was inspired to bare it all. I felt free and exposed and had fun giving my hubs some serious eyes while he took pictures. Collecting photographic memories at some of these fantastical places helps remind us of how blessed we are to be able to wander and explore the places we think only exist in the movies.

Although we only stayed here a moment, it quickly topped the charts of our favorite places to visit. We highly recommend the experience if you find yourself near the northern Nevada-Utah border.

Day 4- Weathering the Storm

Cecret Lake Trail

We felt pretty blasted from the long day’s adventure the day prior and took most of the morning to get moving. We indulged in the recovery time around camp. Jason always brings the chill vibes when he gets tapping on his drum. Bryn and I just laid around on a blanket and looked for bugs, one of our favorite past times. There is such a complex world under our feet and whirling around us. I know we all get the irrational heebie-jeebies, but if you take a closer look, bugs are incredible. They move around like armored superheros, always working hard and creating architecture and ecosystemic harmony. Its like taking a peek into another world, watching them exist. It makes you wonder who is watching us, like bugs in the grass.

After our morning recharge, we ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, put on our hiking shoes and set out to discover the not so secret Cecret Lake. The trail head is situated in Alta, a well known ski village that was visually remarkable as we parked. There was still full snow coverage from the late season, but maintained a seventy degree temperature. It was a little disorienting to be hugging snowbanks in our shorts and tank tops. We visited at such a great time of year, as we caught the hillsides dripping with miniature cascading waterfalls from the snow melt. I’ve never seen so many waterfalls on a hike.

As we made it past the first set of switchbacks, we heard a loud rumble of thunder in the not-so-distant distance and Jason and I gave each other that “oh no” glance. We hadn’t come outfitted with rain gear being that it was such a warm day and we could see the thick clouds coming in with a quickness. Sure enough, a few yards later, we saw a lightening bolt crack down between the two mountain ridges and it looked like an Ansel Adams photo come to life. This would be the first thunderstorm Bryn would experience on this magnitude. To be out in nature with an argument brewing in the sky above you is as exciting as it is unnerving. We celebrated the thunder and she seemed to partake in the excitement until the rain made landfall. It turned the atmosphere cold and wet before we could even strategize a new game plan and Bryn had already lost her zeal as the rain soaked us all. We knew it would pass and we should just carry on but something told us we had seen enough and pushing her to continue and feign enjoyment didn’t sound right. Instead, we ran back down twice as fast as we ascended the trail.

Bryn was firmly bundled up in dada’s warm, loving arms and while she seemed miserable, I think she was secretly loving the attention. She adores her daddy and to be embraced in his steadfast protection feels like the safest place to be. I know this feeling, first hand. Its difficult to fear anything when Jason is around. I cared very little about the rain and really just soaked in the relationship between the two.

nose to nose

We never made it to Cecret Lake, so it remains a secret as far as we are concerned, but it has come heavily endorsed by locals, especially if you can make it there during the wildflower bloom. The first mile, alone, was beautiful and satisfied our hiking needs for the day, but I imagine it would continue to dazzle us if we made it further.

We got back to the RV and stripped our wet clothes off, got cozy and prepared for tomato soup, vegan grilled cheese and fresh baked cookies back at camp. It was still rather stormy and windy when we returned to the KOA. We went for a brief bike ride then a nighttime dance party then turned down for our last night in Salt Lake City.

Day 5- From Rain to Hurricane

Fifth Water Hot Springs

We wrestled with the idea of doing another long hike, knowing we also had a four hour drive and feeling unsure about our energy stores, as we had been moving around a lot. We sacked up and decided we would make it happen. We are so glad we did because this 4.5 mile hike was unreal in its beauty, from beginning to end.

Once we arrived in the Spanish Fork area, the scenery had changed into what looked like springtime in Scotland. I wanted to hang my head out the window like a dog sniffing the breeze. We parked near the Three Forks Trailhead and followed the rapids which guided us to hot springs two miles up. I heard Jason “oohing” and “ahhing” “this is the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on” several times, which is saying a lot, being that we have been lucky enough to have seen some rare beauty by way of foot. We saw very few people over the course of our trek and it felt like we were sort of lost, in a way in which we thoroughly welcomed.

We made it to the first set of hot springs, and decided to hike past the magnificent waterfall to the second set of pools. We had been told the second set was more secluded and operated under a general understanding that if you wanted to enjoy the springs in your “naturalness’, it was a-ok. We stayed in our bathing suits, instead of birthday suits, but we did have the entire area all to ourselves. The second set of pools is maybe two hundred yards up the hill, past the waterfall for those who prefer more privacy. After a dip, we turned around to make our way down, stopping at the waterfall for a closer look and magical refreshing rinse before descending to the base of the trail.

It felt like we made our way through a fairy wonderland as we passed through kaleidoscopes of butterflies, beetle freeways and more spectacular vegetation than we were even prepared for. We had a hard time saying goodbye to this place and I hope it stays the same until we can visit again.

Sand Hollow

After an active morning and substantial jaunt down the road, we arrived tired and ready to decompress at the perfect last stop in Hurricane, Utah. We set up camp at Sand Hollow State Park. I think the sun was sitting passenger on this trip because it seemed to always present itself in a spectacular show as it melted into the horizon with each day’s end. We took in it’s power on our bikes as soon as we arrived at the park. We quietly relived our adventures, in our heads and in gratitude before we, too, melted away into our nest for the night.

bike ride at sunset

Day 6- Waterlogged at the Hollow

For our final full day on this activity packed road trip, we were ready to have a relaxing day in the water. Sand Hollow is a small paradise for off-roaders and boaters. Its quite unique in its ability to accommodate many different motorsports in one region. We had no toys of our own, but the colors in this area were enough to stimulate our senses.

The Beach property opposite the campground is situated on a perfect adobe hued cove that meets brilliant clear blue waters. The vibrancy of the shoreline playing with the mint green plant covered dunes was electric and only became more stunning as the sun moved overhead. We parked the RV on the side of the road at the beach cove. It was wonderful to spare ourselves the hassle of lugging our things to the water. It also made it possible to take a siesta from the sun.

We walked along the beach, said “hello” to passersby, made red sand drip palaces and watched Bryn kick around in the water with contagious enthusiasm. We caught hoards of college aged kids ripping around on jet skis and wakeboards and we caught a bit of the stoke, inspiring us to rent out a ski for the day. We pointed out a jet ski to Bryn, asked if she wanted to try it out and she delighted in the opportunity. We went to the rental center at The Beach, bought two hours and were gifted a retired law enforcement discount, which is a rare occurrence but comes with much gratitude. The staff here is young, vibrant and kind. We enjoyed all of our interactions.

Bryn wasted no time before confidently saddling up as driver, and she navigated the waters with ease and a lot more tenacity than I could’ve expected. I wouldn’t have been so bold and fearless at her age. We explored the entire body of water, and slowed for a little bit to watch cliff jumping teenagers had found a safe spot to jump into the water. I was proud that she jumped into the deeper water without reservation. We never want to push her into something she takes no interest in, while also trying to expose her to as much new experience as possible. She is such a gamer and goes with the flow so often. If there’s ever a time she doesn’t want to try something, we respect her boundaries and wait for her to express when she is ready.

The sun came down to meet the water line and we took our time watching the colors merge into a pastel masterpiece. We forget this happens every day. How often do we take the time to bear witness to the magic that we have available to us with every passing day? We often fantasize about planets in far off galaxies, with stunning creatures and glorious fruits. I remember watching Avatar with imaginary intergalactic travel-lust, and failed to see we live in exactly that place. As we popped sweet juicy hyrdopacks we refer to as grapes, and sat with the fiery orb in the sky, watching our little creature running around on the Mars-toned sand, we realized we needed no space shuttle.

We began to say our “goodbyes” to this adventure as we prepared our campsite to leave the following morning. Before putting Bryn to bed, we had pancakes for dinner and Bryn went on her final figurine hunt where the grand prize was waiting for her at the end. Throughout this trip, Jason had added a new set of rules for Bryn to uncover the clues to get to her next little friend. Every time she asked for a new clue, she would have to tell her advisor three things she loved about herself. My heart just about exploded every time she would respond. What a precious addition to a playful game as well as an invaluable practice she can carry throughout the rest of her life.

Day 7- Home Is When I’m With You

Our hearts were full the morning we made our way back to California. Its truly bittersweet to take these trips because we create so many new memories together and we get a little sad knowing when its time to go back home. I think its sentiment most people can identify with at the end of a vacation. We love our home but have found a lot of negativity swirling around, globally. Getting out of our four walls, and experiencing the intersection of natural beauty and humanity is a great reminder to peel our eyes and ears away from social media and our devices and allow ourselves to see with our real sight.

Lake Dolores Waterpark

We piled in the RV, thoroughly tired and gooey and headed west. We made a quick stop at Lake Dolores Waterpark, an abandoned facility we have seen from the road many times and were always curious about. At first glance, it appears to be a set of dilapidated buildings, covered in graffiti and long forgotten. However, once you peel back the curtains, you step into a gathering place for artists, musicians, creators, skaters, philosophers and photographers. It may be empty inside the park but the ghosts of all who have traveled are very much felt here.

I was dazzled by some of the art, inspired by the words, and hypnotized by the sounds. Jason recognized the ideal acoustics and laid some handpan tracks while we explored all the nooks and crannies. There were some spray cans which still had some life left, and Bryn tested out her tagging skills. I hope we return throughout her life and remember the day she left her mark. I hope by then, thousands of untamed miles have traveled under her feet.

We ran into a married couple who were filming a live stream of her vocal talents and we became her immediate captive audience. She took the time to access her knowledge of “Frozen” and charmed Bryn with her sweet powerful chords. We could see how entranced Bryn was while simultaneously anxious to sing along. She felt too bashful to jump in, but after we parted ways, Bryn summoned her courage and we chased the couple down to return the performance. It was such a heart warming, unexpected exchange. It further confirmed this place holds some sort of vortex that brings together creatives. We were so glad Bryn made herself at home in that space. The water in this place has been replaced by a collective art gallery with free admission. Its definitely worth a stop.

We returned to our suburban home in Murrieta and immediately missed feeling wild in Utah. As we pulled into the driveway, I felt the polarity of being welcomed by the place that holds all our possessions and history as well as a longing to go back out and get lost again. I quickly realized no matter which path I chose, my family is where I consider my home. We are so grateful and blessed to have not just one but two homes. We can stay or vacate and all the thing we hold dear will be with us, in each other.

2 thoughts on “Gone Wild in Utah”

  1. Great write up! Feel like I was along for the ride with you guys. The salt flats and Fifth Water Hot Springs look like they’d be my favorites. The photos are all awesome 😎

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