Save the City’s Namesake

Sacramento, Springfield, Denver, Juneau. Out of the 50 state capitals, Salt Lake City is the only one named after some kind of natural feature. Fittingly so, for perhaps there is no closer reliance between nature and city than the Great Salt Lake and its metropolis. However, decreasing water levels threaten the survival of the lake and place a great strain on the city. Projects like the proposed Bear River Development could exacerbate this strain if not handled responsibly.

Economically, a depleted lake means losing a huge source of revenue. A 2012 report by Bioeconomics found the total economic output of the lake to be around $1.3 billion. That’s enough money to fund nearly all of Utah’s higher education programs for 2012, over 11 percent of the state’s total expenditures, according to a Utah State Legislature fiscal analysis. In addition, more than 7,700 jobs were created around lake-based industries such as aquaculture (raising and harvesting of aquatic plants and animals) and recreation. No matter how impressive the numbers are, they still are just numbers, and, outside of a few overzealous math professors and a handful of calculator-loving economists, they’re about as exciting as the crust of a cherry pie.

To really get into the sweet, syrupy cherries at the center and understand the true significance of the lake, we have to come to a rather stark and sad realization. The Great Salt Lake is the last great wetland ecosystem in the Western United States. Its two main companions, the Colorado River Delta in Colorado and Bay Delta in California, have been depleted to the point of near decimation by droughts and water diversion projects.

What this means is that Salt Lake City’s namesake feature has become a critical ecosystem to not just the thousands of animal and plant species that call it home, but to the biodiversity of the Western U.S. as well. According to Paul Keddy, coauthor of the Wet and Wonderful article in BioScience journal, wetlands provide functions like “carbon storage, flood control, [and] maintenance of biodiversity” that are all critical to the survival of surrounding ecosystems and populations. Keddy also claims that size does matter, citing how “most wetland services increase with area,” meaning that the larger a wetland is, the better it is at its job.

Being the last and largest wetland in this half of the country, the Great Salt Lake’s importance is compounded. Imagine roadtripping from border to border, Canada to Mexico, and only having one place to rest, eat, and get gas. The journey would be enormously difficult, if possible. Now imagine how many people would also be stopping at this oasis and how crowded it would be. This is what the ten million migratory birds that rest here are forced to do year after year.

Throw on top that this lone stop also provides homes, cleans the air, reduces the effects of global warming, refills water supplies, creates industry, and provides ample recreational opportunities and we finally have an analogy comparable to the Great Salt Lake.

If there were such a place this critical to human life, it would doubtlessly be expanded and protected. However, the opposite has happened to our real life refuge. Water diversion projects have drained the lake, lowering its level significantly, and proposed projects, like the Bear River Development, could threaten water levels even more.

Some groups have been resisting the proposed project, such as the Utah Rivers Council. Conservation director Nick Schou asserts that diverting water from the Bear River, the lake’s largest tributary,  will “create a cascade of tragic impacts upon all Utahns and the Great Salt Lake.” He cites the destruction of rare wetland habitat, displacement of millions of migratory birds, worsening air quality as a result of increased sediment exposure, and the effect on lake-reliant industries (like minerals and brine shrimp) as a few examples of these tragic impacts.

Utah State University’s white paper on the impact  of water development projects on the Great Salt Lake found that we have been pulling out water for a while now. They conclude that “consumptive water use has reduced net river inflow to the lake by 39 percent over the past 150 years.”  This is a complicated way of saying that almost since people settled in Utah, we have been lowering the water level through water diversion projects. The same study found that the total water loss adds up to 11 feet. That’s a reduction in volume of 48 percent, most of which is our intentional doing. If not handled more responsibly, there might not be much of a lake left to pull water from.

A looming test of our ability to do this is the aforementioned Bear River Development Project. This project proposes to divert anywhere from 220,000 to 250,000 acre feet of water from the Bear River for residential use along the Wasatch front, where estimates project the population to grow to as much as six million by 2060. A single acre foot is equivalent to roughly 325,000 gallons. If completed, this project could lower the level of the Great Salt Lake anywhere from eight inches to four feet, no small amount for a 1,700 square-mile lake.

Even these relatively small changes could have significant ecological consequences. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Utah Rivers Council, nearly 10 million migratory birds from over 200 species use the lake as a refuge on their cross-continent flights. Decreasing the available habitat will significantly hamper, if not endanger, a large portion of these populations. A smaller, more concentrated lake also means a saltier lake, which can affect the multimillion dollar brine shrimp industry centered there.

The Utah Rivers Council would like to see the Bear River Project axed completely. They say the “devastating environmental impacts” are unjustifiable.

Marisa Egbert, project manager for the Bear River Development Project, says that her division will continue to “track the demands of a growing population and push for water conservation to delay the need for the [Bear River Project].” Nevertheless, Egbert says that completely ruling out the project is something “Utah does not have the luxury of,” referring to the fact that Utah is more or less one big desert.

The city has heard and considered alternative solutions proposed by the Rivers Council, like the utilization of surplus agricultural water and removal of tax subsidies for wasteful water practices. Egbert says that this is a “complex issue” that requires “multifaceted solutions,” however she emphasizes the need for “balanced solutions,” or ones that will try to be fair to all parties.

Any time water is removed from the Great Salt Lake or diverted away from it, environmental harm will follow. What’s critical is minimizing the amount of harm done to our already sick neighbor. If poorly implemented, Schou says the project could be “the nail in the coffin” of the lake. However, if conservative and creative solutions are applied, the impact could be minimal, while the benefits substantial.

With such a unique and important environment’s well-being resting in our hands, no corners should be cut or efforts spared to ensure we maintain its welfare. Failing to do so will result in nothing more than a couple extra miles of salt flat and a city named after the very thing it could not save.


Photo Credit: Chris Hammock


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Meet Mountain Biker Hailey Schiff

Hailey Schiff, a recent graduate in environmental studies, began competing in mountain biking this season, but she’s already making the podium in local competitions. After taking home third in the Scott Enduro Cup in Deer Valley, we sat down to learn about her success in this rapidly growing sport.

Q: How long have you been mountain biking?

A: We have mountain biked my whole life, but it was two or three times a year, go for a little ride, nothing serious. My dad bought me a full suspension bike two years ago. So, this is my second season full-blown mountain biking.

Q: Why were you able to pick it up so easily?

A: I did a ton of road biking before, so I was comfortable on the bike. And I’ve been an amateur professional skier for the last couple of years, which taught me speed.

Q: How many competitions have you done?

A: I did four this season. Three of the Scott Enduro Cup and one Go Ride Gravity Series Super D.

Q: How did you do?

A: Moab was my very first race, and I got eighth in the amateur category. Sun Valley I was in the middle of the pack again. The Super D I got third in the Cat 2 [a racing category] and Deer Valley I got third out of about 15 girls.

Q: How do Enduro races work?

A: You climb, but the climbs are not timed. The descents are timed, and they look like a hybrid of cross country and downhill. There are pedal sections where you have to pedal while going down. Then there are technical sections with rocks and drops or any funky terrain you have to navigate efficiently and clean. There are different stages; you’ll either have a one-day or a two-day event, with three to five stages each day.


Q: So, what was the competition at Deer Valley like?

A: The first trail up there, called NCS, used to be one of the World Cup premier downhill tracks so it’s very technical. The race day was the fourth time I’d ever ridden it, and it scared the crap out of me. My goal going into it was to survive the stage so I could do the rest, but I ended up getting second.

Q: How did that feel when you finished second?

A: It was really cool. I actually puked from being so gripped, hanging on as hard as I could and surviving. All that stress was done. It was good, and reaffirming that all the biking and work I’ve done this summer has really paid off. It was an, “I did it!” moment.

Q: And how many hours have you been putting in?

A: One to two hours a day, and on the weekends I’ll go all day. Probably around 15 to 20 hours a week. It’s kind of a part-time job I guess.

Q: It seems that mountain biking has really expanded in popularity. Why do you think that is?

A: Mountain biking has become a lot more accessible, and the gear has changed. It’s more enjoyable to ride mountain bikes now. And, I see a lot of women getting into the sport. I think it’s that cultural norms are changing. Little girls are being brought up empowered and being told that they can ride a bike, and they can ride it like a badass and that’s ok… Also, in Utah the population has exploded exponentially, so the trails are more saturated.

Q: So, what’s next for you?

A: I didn’t anticipate on racing this summer. I had a friend who convinced me, and I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. I think next year I want to do the Series again, or check out other ones like the Colorado Big Mountain Series.

Q: What about going pro? Would you want to do that?

A: It would be cool to get there, and I would like to get there, but I want to make sure it’s still fun for me along the way. I don’t want it to become this thing where people have expectations that I will show up and do this and that. I want to do it for myself, and it would be cool to prove it to myself that I can hang with some of these badass women who I look up to.

Feature photo credit: Randy Winzeler




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The Art of Hanging Out

Few things convey the message of “I’m outdoorsy, yet I like to relax” better than an artsy pic of yourself hammocking on Instagram. The trend is infectious, spreading through college campuses across the nation faster than student loan anxieties. But what exactly is the appeal? The short answer is the three C’s: comfort, cost, and carry-ability.

Anyone who has spent a sleepless night struggling against the incline of a hill or an unfortunately placed rock can appreciate the beauty of simply not being on the ground. A hammock allows this liberation, freeing your aching back from all the lumps and bumps of a lesser used campsite, while at the same time keeping you relatively level on even the steepest of slopes. With comfort being their greatest appeal, hammocks have been convoluted into all kinds of odd contraptions in order to squeeze out every last drop of coziness.

For example, inventions such as the Hammocraft, a bizarre mash-up of poles, straps, and hammocks, allow for five people to sway in their sacs on the water atop two paddle boards. Or, better yet, the HydroHammock, a hot tub/hammock combination, allows for all the comfort of a 50 gallon portable hot tub in a tree. However, these Frankensteins of the hammock world have tipped the scales too far in terms of comfort, sacrificing the two other critical components to the appeal of hammocking.

In order for a hammock to be effective, it must also hit the criteria of cost and carry-ability. A decent hammock will run you anywhere from $35 to $100 and will be able to pack up into a sack slightly larger than a softball. By comparison, a good backpacking tent could easily run double or triple the price and quadruple the weight. A failure in these last two categories clearly rule out both the Hammocraft and HydroHammock as viable contenders to make a pack list. There are versions out there that hit all three criteria, however, and do it well.

We at Wasatch Magazine have taken the terribly arduous task of spending hours upon hours researching, firsthand, the ups and downs of different brands and styles of hammocks. Below is our compiled list of those and the perks, or downfalls, of each type:


Serac Classic

This is likely the most accessible of the hammocks on the list at just $38, straps included, and is the only style available for rent at Outdoor Adventures. Weighing 16 ounces, it’s perfectly suited to throw in a day bag or even overnight pack, and is almost as comfortable as any of the competing brands. However, the six-foot straps are seriously limiting. Finding two trees of suitable diameter and spacing is a quest itself worthy of a Tolkien novel. The parachute nylon material, standard among most hammocks, seems to be of a lower quality and is not as dynamic as more expensive models. Although, since it only costs about the same as a serious three person Chipotle run, the Serac Classic stacks up to be the perfect model for the casual hammocker.


Thermarest Slacker Double

The only double hammock on the list, the Thermarest Slacker Double provides a reasonable option for getting closer to that special someone. Unlike most hammocks, Thermarest utilizes a ripstop polyester designed to, they claim, offer a better next-to-skin experience. The validity of that assertion is hearsay, but the material does make the hammock slightly less breathable than its parachute nylon counterparts. As far as doubles go, the Slacker runs a little on the heavy side at 1lb 7oz and doesn’t pack down that small, only managing a relatively big 9×12 inches. Although, the $80 price point, not including straps, is reasonable for this style. Not necessarily a spectacular hammock, the Slacker Double mainly serves as a sufficient alternative for those looking to move away from nylon.


Tribe Provisions Adventure Hammock

What Great Value is to food, Tribe Provisions is to hammocks: not as flashy, but usually almost as good. For $40 you get a ripstop nylon hammock and heavy duty cordage that acts as straps. No instructions are provided on how to hang the hammock with the cordage, so some basic knot skills, or some good YouTube videos, are needed. Prolonged hanging without proper straps will also result in tree damage so some kind of tree protection is needed (this can be as simple as a piece of cardboard between the rope and tree). Weighing in at 1lb 2oz without the cordage, the adventure hammock isn’t the lightest option on the market, but isn’t too heavy either. If your goal is lightweight backpacking on a budget, this would be a good choice.


ENO Singlenest

Essentially The North Face of hammocks, Eagles Nest Outfitters have set the standard for the ideal nap facilitator. Weighing just 16 ounces and packing down to 4×5 inches, without straps, the Singlenest is the prime lightweight alternative to a backpacking tent. The hefty $60 price reflects this. However, the 70D nylon taffeta, heavy duty cordage, and aluminum wiregate carabiners ensure that this investment has the durability to last you many, many trips. If you’re serious about your outdoor naps or are willing to spend a little more to save some weight in your pack, this is the hammock for you!


Photo Credit: Peter Creveling


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Skiers should be wary of avalanche dangers in the backcountry

An entire season of skipping class to play in the Wasatch snow is now upon us. It doesn’t really matter whether you’re into skiing or snowboarding — either way, there may be a time when you find yourself crossing into avalanche-prone terrain.

But with this comes a lot of questions. What do we have to be afraid of in this territory? What do we do when we are there? What even is avalanche-prone terrain? I sat down with Craig Gordon with the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) to get some answers.

As part of his work, Gordon provides mountain weather conditions and advisories each day. Comprised of a team of six employees, UAC is the go-to resource for Utah’s avalanche information. Thousands of people rely on the center’s predictions and reports each day.

“Essentially, our information helps keep riders on top of the greatest snow on earth rather than buried beneath it,” Gordon says.

I remember as a child seeing the occasional news report about avalanches or, more recently, seeing viral videos showing sponsored snowboarders or skiers triggering huge avalanches in some remote mountain ranges. But at the end of the day, are avalanches an actual threat to regular people like me, especially if I plan on staying in the Wasatch this winter?

Gordon says avalanches are the deadliest natural disaster in Utah. About four people are killed by one in the state each year.

“Avalanches are equal opportunity killers,” he says. “One-fourth of all people caught in avalanches are killed by trauma … For the rest of us, we’re killed by asphyxiation, and our chances of being found alive under the snow drastically decline after about 15 minutes.”

All that’s needed for an area to be avalanche-prone is for snow to accumulate on a slope. It’s as simple as that, and the Wasatch has a lot of steep gradients and plenty of snow this time of year. Even more, avalanches are extremely common, whether occurring naturally or triggered by backcountry skiers or snowboarders. So what’s the first step to staying out of harm’s way?

“Before even considering going into the backcountry, you need to take a basic avalanche awareness class,” Gordon says. “Then you need to wear and know how to use avalanche rescue gear. You also need to get the latest avalanche advisory.”

The “Know Before You Go” avalanche awareness program was recently updated and can be read at kbyg.org. It’s an easy-to-understand crash-course on avalanche danger, with great references and further reading. From there, it’s definitely not a bad idea to take one of U Explore’s avalanche courses or one of the UAC’s backcountry 101 classes.

The Utah Avalanche Center calls this whole process “GET THE TRAINING, GET THE GEAR, GET THE FORECAST,” and by doing this, you can operate more safely in hazardous terrain. It’s important not to neglect any of these steps. A shiny new avalanche beacon is of no use if you haven’t practiced using it. Conversely, proper training doesn’t mean you can forgo important equipment in case things turn sour. And even the most well-seasoned backcountry veterans won’t travel on a day with high or extreme avalanche danger.

“The best avalanche,” Gordon says, “is the one we don’t trigger because even when we do have all the gear and all the training, the story often has a crappy ending.”




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Top four cross country courses in Utah

There are more than 25 locations throughout Utah to go cross country skiing, most near Salt Lake City, but these four are really a cut above the rest. Here’s my round-up of the best courses to visit this winter:

1. Alta Ski Area

At an elevation of 8,500 ft., this five-kilometer track is a great spot if you are looking for high altitude training where you can put in a lot of laps. The cost to use this frequently groomed track is $10 for a Ski After 3 day-pass or $125 for a season pass. If you live near Little Cottonwood, this is a great location to go to.

2. Mountain Dell

Located on a golf course a couple of miles up Parley’s Canyon, this track is convenient and offers a great view of the canyon, especially during the winter months, when the snow covers the mountains. This track is well-maintained and groomed daily, sometimes twice depending on snowfall. It is a more lengthy track at 10 kilometers. The cost for day use is $7, and a season pass is $80. Keep in mind that this course is on a watershed, so no dogs are allowed on the track.

3. Mill Creek Canyon

This track is another great location with stunning views. The course is eight kilometers long with the bottom half of the section attracting a lot of foot traffic from other hikers. The top half, though, is generally solitary and quiet. The track is groomed at least once per week, generally before the weekend. It is occasionally groomed after the weekend for the week day use. This is a great option if you are looking for a cheap cross country ski spot. The cost per day is $3, while a yearly pass is $40. Both skate and classic skiing are available on this track.

4. White Pine Touring Center

My personal favorite is right in the heart of Park City and extends beyond to get some really lengthy workouts in. The track is 20+ kilometers with various options. Some of the courses in this location are as short as two or three kilometers. If you are an experienced classic or skate skier, this is the place to go. It is located about six miles from Kimball Junction — about a 30- to 40-minute drive from Salt Lake City. Although a little bit more out of the way, this track is worth the extra distance. It’s groomed daily and costs $18 for day use (the price reduces to $10 per day after 3 p.m.).

Almost every location across the state caters to both classic and skate cross country skiing. If you sign up to be a member of the Utah Nordic Alliance, you will get discounts on season and day passes at many of these tracks. If you are a current university student, you will also be able to get reduced prices using your university ID card.

To learn more about where to cross country ski in Utah, visit the Utah Nordic Alliance’s website at www.utahnordic.com.



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Take a trip to Lake Tahoe

If you are looking for a great get-away trip during Fall Break, I highly recommend making the expedition to Lake Tahoe (splitting the border of California and Nevada). The eight-hour drive is definitely worth the time.

If you have never been to the area, then you are in for an experience like no other. The drive is a little long with the beginning being the most difficult part to get through, but once you inch closer to California, you begin to see the landscape transform.

There are plenty of stops along the road for those who want to break up their drive through Nevada. You may even want to stop in Reno to make a quick buck on the slot machines or the blackjack table. Once in the Sierra Nevada, you’re surrounded by beautiful pine trees with pinecones the size of bowling balls.

When you reach Lake Tahoe, it’s easy to be instantly blown away by its beauty. It’s quite a large fresh water body with plenty of activity in the surrounding area to keep you busy for the entire week. The water is the clearest that I have ever seen. There are times when you’ll have visibility of 50 to 75 feet below the surface.

The shore of the lake is home to a couple of beaches. Some are large enough to play badminton or a game of volleyball. At the northern part of the lake, you can rent bikes with big enough tires to take rides on the sandy shores. If you have the opportunity to do this, I would not let it pass.

The lake is also open to any water sport that your heart desires, such as wake-boarding, water-skiing, boating, fishing, paddle-boarding, or even scuba diving. The options are limitless. The water is a little colder in October, so I’d recommend a wetsuit.

You can also visit the nearby ski resorts, such as Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and North Star (though there won’t be any snow yet). You can ride up to the top on a tram and visit one of the numerous restaurants and gift shops.

Another landmark to visit at Lake Tahoe is Bonsai Rock. It is located on the Nevada side of the lake towards the north. This is a very popular tourist destination and a highly photographed feature of the lake. It is truly awe-inspiring.

Lake Tahoe is also home to various hikes, especially along the southern portion, including part of the Pacific Crest Trail and the Tahoe Rim Trail. The best option would be to go on a backpacking trip to really get the full experience (just be cautious of bears living in the area).

All in all, Lake Tahoe is an excellent destination for a Fall Break trip. If you have never been to the area, you are surely in for a treat.



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Go for a climb this “Rock-tober”

Are you feeling it, too? It’s really quite beautiful, once you think about it. Things are happening around Utah. The backgrounds of our Instagram selfies are changing to beautiful hues of gold, red, and orange. The soft smell of decaying leaves (and is that pumpkin spice?) is gently blowing in the breeze. It’s that time: Fall is upon us.

Send-tember is over, and Rock-tober is in full swing. What does this mean? Well, if you like to climb, you may realize that the temperatures around the state are beginning to calm down. The canyons in the Wasatch and the desert towers in central Utah are not quite as swelteringly hot. Plus, at least normally, for one glorious month out of the year, conditions around the state become just right to open up a veritable buffet of climbing opportunities.

Let’s do some math. Fall Break is nine days long. That’s nine uninterrupted days of pure freedom. Better still, that’s nine whole days of prime climbing time. I’m no math major, but that’s seven more days than our average weekend. Sounds to me like an opportunity.

While many people may be finding themselves running home to their families or going on sight-seeing trips around the state and beyond, you could be taking advantage of this prime weather to head down and climb in southern Utah without having to worry about getting back late Sunday night in time for classes the next morning. Or you could stay in the valley and climb along the Wasatch Front. Each day is a new opportunity for morning pump, mid-day crushfests, and evening epics.

If you’re still not getting my message, let’s look at average temperatures in the Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons during this time of year: low- to mid-60s. What does that mean? Your climbing ability rises about two to three whole letter grades in this temperature. I don’t make the rules — these are just the facts, people.

Need some ideas? Grab a few crash pads and go bouldering in the Secret Garden, located near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon (only about 20 minutes from campus). Or, for more of an adventure, head down to Moab, camp for a few days, and go climbing at the infamous Wall Street. Not too far away is Indian Creek, which is well-known for its top-tier sandstone crack climbing. Now is not a bad time to make the drive and experience what all the hype is about.

If you don’t quite have all the gear, check out Outdoor Adventure’s equipment rental program. They have quite the inventory, and U students receive a small discount on rental fees. A bouldering pad is $6 for the day. You can even rent climbing helmets, harnesses, and shoes. Or grab a tent, sleeping bag, and every other camping essential you need to sleep at the base of your next objective. Now there’s really no excuse.

So get out this Fall Break and go climbing. The weather is great, school is a non-issue, and your friends finally have no excuse to not act as your belayer for the day.




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Explore the beauty of Bryce

One of the most interesting and sought-after national parks in the United States is Bryce Canyon. Nothing else comes close to the beauty of the red rock — especially in the autumn. Tourists come from all around the world just to look at the naturally forming hoodoos and cliff faces, and I suggest you spend your Fall Break doing the same.

Bryce Canyon National Park is a little more than a four-hour drive south of Salt Lake City. Fill up with gas in Beaver — it’s the last chance for a while, and it’s a little more expensive once you reach Panguitch.

The most exciting land feature you’ll see before arriving at the park is the Red Arch Tunnel, which you can drive through. Once you arrive at Bryce Canyon, you’ll have to pay an entrance fee. After that, there are two campgrounds inside the park at which you should be able to reserve a spot prior to leaving on your trip.

If you arrive in the evening, the best time to view the entire amphitheatre will be at either sunset or sunrise, because the shadows from every hoodoo will enhance the scene.

The first overlook you’ll come to is Sunrise Point. When the first light of the day hits the spot, the hills sing. The colors come alive. You can hike into this natural amphitheatre by following the Queens Garden Trail. Hoodoos tower above you as you walk. But don’t get too distracted by the rock formations — it’s a long way down to the bottom if you slip and fall.

Once you finish the Queens Garden loop you’ll meet a junction — you can either head back to the top of Sunset Point or continue doing another hike called Peek-A-Boo Loop. Follow the latter, if you have the time. It’s a blast walking in and out of the strange land formations. Be sure to bring a lot of water with you on the trail because there aren’t any filling-up stations until you get back to the top.

Once you get back to your car, stick around for the sunset. While you’re waiting, practice a special trick with ponderosa pine trees. Put your nose to the tree and take a whiff. There should be a slight sent of vanilla. If so, then you’ve correctly identified a ponderosa.

At your campsite, cook up some dinner and wait for the stars. Since Bryce is so far away from any major metropolitan areas, there is little light pollution to get in your way of viewing the Milky Way. But don’t stay out stargazing too late because you have one more destination to see the next day before you head home to Salt Lake City: Bryce Point.

This location allows you to view the entire landscape that Bryce Canyon has to offer all at once. Take it in and enjoy the beauty around you this Fall Break.



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Must-Hike Moab Destinations: Millcreek Canyon and Fisher Towers

Moab, Utah is my second home. I can always count on a four-hour road trip south into the red rock with my family or friends at least once a year — more than once, if I get my way.

As a result of these frequent trips, I’ve had plenty of time to learn the lay of the land and have experienced some awesome Moab hikes. Though many people who travel to Moab are focused on seeing the big tourist sites and taking the popular hikes, such as those in Arches National Park, there are plenty of beautiful spaces without the tourist frenzy. The area truly is a hiker’s paradise, with trails criss-crossing all varieties of desert terrain. These are the top two on my list of must-hike Moab trails:

Millcreek Canyon

My favorite place to spend the day hiking in Moab — and really my favorite hike anywhere — is Millcreek Canyon (not to be confused with the canyon up north in the Wasatch Range). This is an especially good option for those who are staying in or around town, as it’s a short bike ride from the center of town. This is also a great option if you don’t have a whole day but just a couple of hours and want to experience the best of red rock country; you can make the hike as short or as long as you desire.

The trailhead can be a little tricky to locate the first time around. Just ask at any local restaurant or gas station for directions, and you’ll be on your way in no time. Once you make it up the short gravel-and-dirt road to the parking area, you will inevitably encounter a few other hikers, most of them locals during the week. Though there can be quite a few people on the weekends, there are plenty of places along the trail to branch off for a quieter walk.

Also, keep in mind that if you’re there over any holiday weekend, the place will be swarming with Jeep drivers. It’s usually good to avoid the area during this time, even if it is fun to watch them attempt to drive up the cliffs.

Millcreek Canyon sports an easy-to-follow trail that meanders along the creek, while crossing over it from time to time. Recent trail markers have made it easy to keep on-trail throughout the creek crossings. Your feet will get wet on this hike, so it is always nice to wear a pair of waterproof sandals that you can comfortably wade and hike in. Not only is there potential for wading, but there’s also a nice spot for a cool swim. The natural swimming hole at the end of the short canyon is a great place to relax and take in the scenery.

The proximity to the water makes it an excellent choice for a hike with your four-legged pal, but be careful because the sand can get too hot for a dog’s paws at times. If you want a longer hike, you can hike out of the canyon and follow the creek from above.

Fisher Towers

My other favorite hiking area is farther from town, which entails a scenic 30-minute drive down Highway 128, snaking along the Colorado River. The drive alone is worth the trip, but the destination — Fisher Towers — boasts a pretty awesome hike.

Once you see the sign and turn off the highway, you are faced with a long dirt road and an awesome view of red drip castle-like towers looming up the hill. The hiking trail starts at the top of the road from a small parking lot and winds its way around the base of the awe-inspiring rocks.

The trail can be hard to follow at first, as it’s not clearly marked, but there are enough cairns built up along the way that you aren’t lost for long. The hike is an easygoing four-and-a-half-mile round-trip. The relaxed trail presents views of mesas, valleys and canyons as far as the eye can see. It is especially spectacular when a storm is moving across the landscape, dropping low clouds and some occasional lightning.

Fisher Towers is also a popular spot for climbers, so most likely you’ll be able to gaze up at the brave souls scaling the vertical formations as you traverse the trail.

In case you don’t feel like making the return journey right away (you won’t), there is a small campground situated just beneath Fisher Towers with secluded sites overlooking the valley all the way to the river. The campground is especially spectacular at sunrise and sunset.




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