For my Birthday, my husband gave me a choice between an all-inclusive luxurious beach vacation to the Caribbean or a road trip to Southern Utah for hiking and exploring. Here is the catch – our Rocket would not be able to come to the Caribbean but could join us on the road trip. As spectacular as a sun-soaking beach vacation sounds in the dead of winter, I chose the road trip (i.e., I chose the dachshund).
We spent the next couple of days researching different areas and decided to make Kanab, Utah our home base. Since we live in Salt Lake, we are accustomed to exploring different areas of our beautiful state. Kanab, which is right on the border of Utah and Arizona is one of the few areas we haven't explored yet.
Everything needed to be dog-friendly from the hotel to our activities which can sometimes be challenging. Luckily, Kanab loves pets, and there is an endless amount of things to do.
It took us about 4.5 hours to drive from Salt Lake to Kanab. We left early enough that there was plenty of daylight left. First stop – Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Located right in Kanab, Utah, Best Friends is a dream vacation for animal lovers and the largest of its kind in America. Spectacular red rocks surround this spacious sanctuary home to many animals. I have wanted to visit this place since I moved to Utah 16 years ago!
There are about 1,600 animals that call Best Friends Animal Sanctuary a home-between-homes. Dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, horses, pigs and other barnyard animals come here from all over the country. Every day, they offer free tours. If you want a hands-on experience with the animals, then volunteering is the way to go. I didn't have time to volunteer on this trip but am looking forward to coming back.
The next day we got up early and headed for White Pocket. Located within the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, White Pocket is a unique area with colorful, swirling rocks and shapes. Upon first entering the area you are met with bright white bubbly rocks. It's a place I can visualize dinosaurs walking around.
You don't need a permit to go here, and you are free to roam wherever your heart desires. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. A word of caution, the road to get there can be tough. You will drive through deep sand and some substantially sized rocks. You must have a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle to have any chance of making it. I highly recommend stopping by the visitor center for current road conditions.
I am a big time preparer. I read and research everything before we go on trips like these. Everything I learned about White Pocket made the road sound incredibly challenging. So challenging that we had an excellent chance of getting stuck. We saw photos of Jeeps stuck in sand up to their axels. My husband and I are always up for adventures like this, but I also like to be prepared. We brought along a satellite phone (no cell service in the area) in case we got stuck, a detailed map of how to get there, a large shovel and an automatic tire inflator in case we needed to deflate the tires to make it through the sand.
We have a slightly raised F150 truck with rugged tires. We conquered the road without any problems, but it was quite a ride! The sand did get deep in sections, so we kept the momentum moving forward as best as we could. Rocket and I were bouncing around like rubber balls in the passenger seat! If you want to visit White Pocket (I highly recommend you do) but don't want to risk driving there yourself, you can take a tour.
Why you should go:
No permit needed
Roam wherever you please
Since the sun didn't set until 5:45, we had a couple of hours left in the day. We found a perfect little hike on the map called The Toadstools. We were not expecting much but to our surprise were blown away by this place.
Toadstool is a natural wonder and ended up being one of our favorite places. It is a short, easy hike (1.5 miles round trip) to a unique collection of rocks balancing of soft, eroded sandstone. There is a vast valley of pure white formations that fade up to a thick orange-red color. You are free to walk everywhere and explore.
Rocket loved this place, and we couldn't stop him from running all over! We were lucky enough to catch the spectacular sunset before heading back to our hotel for the night.
On day three we headed to Buckskin Gulch slot canyon. Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest, possibly the world. For those of you unfamiliar, a slot canyon is a narrow canyon formed by water rushing through rock over the course of millions of years. The water creates a channel which is much deeper than it is wide. Exploring a slot canyon indeed takes hiking to the next level.
You do need a day permit for Buckskin Gulch, which you acquire in the parking lot. It's 6 dollars per person and 6 dollars per dog. If you choose to hike the entire 21 miles, you could make a 2-day overnight trip. This backpacking trip requires an overnight permit that must be purchased in advance.
We opted for the day trip and started at the Wire Pass trailhead. It's about a 1.7-mile hike through an open wash before you reach the slot canyon.
Soon after entering the canyon, there is an 8-10 foot drop. My husband and I looked at each other and said a long “uhh” at the same time. Then I remembered reading about an alternate entrance (obsessively researching does have its perks!) Right before you enter the canyon, there is a marked trail to the right which takes you up and over the rock and bypasses the steep drop. Woo-hoo!
Once inside the slot canyon, the real adventure begins. Sheer rock walls on either side of you carve a darkened path ahead. The rock reaches 400 feet high and only 4 feet wide in some areas. I have never felt smaller in my life. When you stop and look up, you can see a narrow sliver of the sky which gave me a slightly eerie feeling knowing how far down into the canyon we were.
The hike is mesmerizing and an incredible experience. As a side note, when you get to the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch, start yelling. You will hear the greatest echo ever! Rocket was so confused by his bark! Watch this video to hear the best echo ever.
Know the risks:
There usually is water that you need to hike through, but we have had such a dry winter, the walk was completely dry. As unbelievable as slot canyons are, they can be even more dangerous.
Flash floods can occur at a moments notice. The powerful water moves so fast that it can take out large trees and move massive boulders. Unfortunately, if you are well into the slot canyon, there is no way to escape.
You must talk to a ranger at the visitor center and check the weather not only above you but ahead of you before attempting a slot canyon. Even with blue skies above you, a flash flood coming from miles away can occur. Be smart and don't push it, especially if you see any dark clouds.
Before you go:
Check the weather and talk with a ranger at the visitor center
Bring cash or a check to pay the permit fee
Wear layers as the slot canyon is significantly cooler than the outside temperature (we went in winter)
Bring lots of water and snacks
Wear sturdy, hiking boots
On our final day in Kanab, we visited the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, State Park. There is an 8 dollar entrance fee, and dogs are allowed.
The dunes bring out the inner kid in you. Rocket, my husband and I spent a couple of hours rolling down the dunes and playing in the sand. Kicking off our shoes and dragging our feet through the warm sand felt great especially in the middle of winter!
Apparently, you can rent sand-boards from the visitor center and fly down the dunes. We will have to do that next time!
On our way home, we took the scenic drive through Zion National Park. I think this is the most spectacular road I have ever driven. There is a 1.1-mile long tunnel with windows that look out into the park. Prepare to say lots of “oohs and aahs”.
Dogs are only allowed on one trail within the park. If you plan on doing any serious hiking, you won't be able to bring your pup. We were still able to snap some fun photos of Rocket with the beautiful scenery.