That Time I… took a road trip to Utah

Columnist Derek Bos captured what it looked like at the top of Angels Landing at Zion National Park.

Derek Bos

Columnist Derek Bos captured what it looked like at the top of Angels Landing at Zion National Park.

By Derek Bos, Opinion Columnist

Our story out west begins as every good road trip story does — in a tightly packed SUV unable to see out the back window. My three public school besties and I, with our freshly shaven faces, set off west from DeKalb to Utah: The Beehive State. 

21 hours of open road dragged onto 26 because our 21st century automobile lacked cruise control. If you think driving through Illinois is boring, then I have bad news, pal. I’d only ever wish for that eight-hour drive through Nebraska on my worst enemy. Nebraska: The monotonous state. Driving through Colorado at night was fun in the same way playing Mario Kart’s rainbow road is. Feels just as scary too. The elevation ramps up and down, and the curves help the car snacks move through your digestive system. This is also where your ears start to pop like when flying on a plane, which is what we should’ve done. 

We crossed state lines into the Utah salt plains at dawn. The sun’s early purple hue sat on top of the Mars-like terrain ahead of us. Truly otherworldly, though the only extraterrestrials spotted were us. Nearing 24 hours of no sleep and with the AC on high blast drying our skin and lips into oblivion, we looked like the southwest’s infamous prickly pear cactus. 

A few Gatorades later and we finally made it: Saint George, Utah, just 20 minutes from Zion National Park, our chosen vacation spot. For those unaware, Zion National Park is a cool place where you can hike up mountains, wade through gorges and bike along the same paths porcupines and bobcats tread. 

We spent our first day climbing up Angel’s Landing, a four hour hiking trail, zig-zagging up a mountain side with one major caveat: the last stretch of the hike is a path along the mountain top’s crest that connects to an even higher peak. The metal chain you grapple onto is the only security measure protecting you from the 1,488 foot drop. The view at the top lives true to its name. Truly ethereal.

Our next significant hike was through the Narrows. 10 miles of wading upstream through what looked like chocolate milk to see the most legendary waterfall marking the end of the hike, and the accomplishment of a lifetime. It would’ve been cool to see the waterfall if it weren’t for the flash flood that snatched us away. Turns out we vacationed during the Narrows’ monsoon season. Estimated to be only 20 minutes away, the strength of the Virgin River current that runs through the Narrows made it impossible to keep going. Quicksand is a real thing, and we trudged through it when not outright being pulled downstream by the current. 

Our water adventure left our feet utterly demolished, so we took the next few days off. Here’s what we learned: Utah feels like a dry state, meaning you basically need to sell your soul in order to get your hands on anything stronger than beer. It can’t be sold in grocery stores or most restaurants, and absolutely never after 1 a.m., per Utah law. Moreover, it was near impossible to find any restaurant open after 7 p.m.

The pinnacle of Utah’s gloom took place on the highway when a state trooper pulled us over for going 5 mph over. Bladee’s “Be Nice 2 Me” was playing up until he came to our window and asked what I thought my punishment should be. Must’ve not liked my answer because his reply was a $130 ticket. Truly unbelievable. Needing a break from Utah, we embarked on a side quest to its cool blue neighbor – Nevada.

Nevada is the exact opposite of its neighbor, a true foil to Utah’s anti-fun culture. LED lights and liquor flows from the streets. As per the rules (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), I can’t detail my time in Las Vegas, but I will share this: don’t waddle through any of the strip’s casinos unless you look like one of your professors. The four of us were ID’d – no exaggeration – every three minutes. One guy tried to ID us while we were actively getting ID’ed by a different guy. Eventually, I just held my license in my hand to save time. If you want to have a good time, you should head downtown and stop by Fremont, Las Vegas instead. I got three shirts for $10 and a piña colada for $4. 

Two weeks later, we returned home with a millimeter more of hair on our faces and a new appreciation for the Oregon Trail game. Would I go back? Yeah, probably. Police radars are pretty cheap, as are the Airbnbs out there. Zion in the summer is a must see; though if you can’t make it, you can always play Bethesda’s sci-fi rendition of the national park via “Fallout: New Vegas: Honest Hearts DLC” for the Xbox 360.