Southern Utah Tour

Extended road trip through "Color Country" with an exciting, but unpleasant ending.

20080510 to 20080520

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Classic western sunset as seen from I-40 east of Barstow, CA.
Canon 1DsM3, 300mm, 1/400 at f/7,1 ISO 200. All photos copyright, Bill Caid 2008. All rights reserved.

Exploring the Desert Southwest

Most of the American west is arid at one level or another. I have lived the majority of my life in the west, but in actuality, have seen a relatively small part of the area. Over the years, I have attempted to travel to new areas when I could to explore these new regions and learn about the geography, flora and fauna. Kathleen and I have gone to the desert and intermountain regions many times through the years. After all that travel, both of us still think that the area surrounding northern Arizona and southern Utah rate as the most scenic, albeit remote, sections of the west.

Exploring the west requires planning. Distances are large and many small towns do not have any form of accommodations including stores that sell food or fuel. Considering logistics is key in correctly executing a trip to this region. Factors that must be considered include access to fuel, water, communications and the ability to seek help should that be required. But, despite the advance planning required, this area offers some of the best views in the world if you are willing to suffer the drive to see them.

In addition to diverse geology, the region has diverse weather as well. In the course of this trip, we went from blowing dust, to heat, to snow and back. You must be prepared for radical changes in the weather. We were confronted with below freezing temperatures and over 120 degrees in the course of several days.

Go directly to the Trip

The Team and Equipment

The away team for this trip consisted of only one vehicle and 2 folks. Kathleen and I went in our turbo-diesel Mercedes Unimog 1300L with our now-proven Alaskan camper. We would have loved to go with another vehicle, but this was planned to be an extended duration trip and therefore would have been a great imposition on any partners who had "real" jobs.

With the recent completion of our camper for our Unimog, we now had a vehicle that would allow us to travel great distances to remote regions in relative comfort. Given our ability to carry water and fuel and the general remoteness of the region, we were limited to about 4 days maximum between re-supply points. Food was not an issue since we could always eat canned food, but access to water and fuel was the limiting factor. But, we were planning to visit towns in the southern Utah area every few days so logistics were reasonably simple.

The Trip

I have always loved the so-called "color country" of southern Utah. While we have been in this area regularly, I have never gotten my fill. So, given our ability to travel into remote regions with relative comfort, we planned an extended trip that would encompass a big swath of the southern portion of the state. Our plan was to visit those areas we have driven by in the past due to our inability to traverse them in a "normal" vehicle.

Our trip through this area lasted nearly 2 weeks and would encompass a good chunk of the state of Utah. We traveled from San Diego, CA to Page, AZ and back. The entire path would take us over nearly 2,000 miles across the desert west.

Our initial plan was to head from the San Diego, CA area, through the Lower Colorado desert regions near Borrego Springs; though the Imperial Valley to the Colorado River and then north to the St. George, UT area for a few days. From there, we would head north east accross the high country of southern Utah and then south to Page, AZ. From Page, we would explore some of the remote regions of the Grand Staircase region and then work our way north through the center of Utah to Salt Lake. From our terminal point in Salt Lake, we were going to leave the truck at the airport and fly back to San Diego for a concert, return to SLC and continue the trip from there. Reality would rear it's ugly head and interrupt our plans. The short story is that we would suffer a major mechanical failure on our vehicle that put us in harm's way. But, in the end, things worked out acceptably. We were in danger, but our luck would hold enough to allow an unassisted return to San Diego.

Trip Details

The link table below contains links to the daily adventures that include photos and dialog about what we saw.


Links to Daily Adventures
Segment Dates Adventure Location
20080510 - 11
Borrego Springs to Needles
Needles to Snow Canyon near St. George, UT

Cedar City and Kolob Terrace

Zion Canyon NP and Kolob Terrace
Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin
Cockscomb, Cottonwood Canyon and Grand Staircase
Grand Bench Area and Mechanical Failure
20080518 - 19
Page, AZ and Return to San Diego



The west is much bigger than you think. You can look at the map and compute mileages, but until you are actually there, drive the roads and trails, you cannot fully appreciate the scope of the region. Now that SUVs are popular, many of the regions that were once lightly traveled are now more heavily used. The impact on the roads is dramatic. In the "old days", normal off-road ruts were the primary annoyance. Today, these roads are heavily washboarded due to travel at high speed with full air pressure by the legions of amatuers with SUVs that now travel in these regions. Despite the actions of the road crews that service these back country areas, if you go, you can expect to have the fillings rattled out of your teeth. Reduced air pressure will help somewhat, as will lowering your speed, but the net results are that it is rough and the roads will take a toll on both man and machine.

Traveler's Advice

This trip offered a multitude of challenges, some unanticipated and one major challenge that could have ended very differently. The mileages that must be traversed in this region are large and it is not uncommon to go over 100 miles between fuel stops. Some small towns have gas, but not diesel. Some towns have both. Cell service is spotty in most of the region and totally non-existent in back country regions. If you go, you should make appropriate plans for communications including a CB radio and/or 2 meter ham radio that will allow you to call for help should that be required. If you have the funds, you may want to consider a satellite phone as a communication alternative. Now that we have suffered an "unanticipated failure", a sat phone is high on our list of desired accessories.

Ice is generally available in most towns. Water, in small quantities such as bottled water is also easily available. Water is larger quantities, such as filling your tanks in your RV can be found in most organized camp grounds and waste dump stations.

Miscellaneous Information

Don't forget about the weather. The temperatures on these high plateaus can change by 30 - 40 degrees in only a few minutes. Snow in mid-summer is not all that rare as are bouts of life-threatening heat. Planning ahead will help you avoid those "exciting moments" that will make you question your basic sanity.



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Copyright Bill Caid 2008