On a scale of one to Hades, the outside temperature in Moab was hotter than the fire and brimstone below. 103. 104. 105. The mercury was climbing faster than a mountain goat after drinking a double espresso. It was unseasonably hot for the first week of September. But inside the Southwest Adventure Tours van? The vacation vibe was very chill. Eleven passengers from five different states sat captivated in their captain chairs. They didn’t have to navigate the twists and turns on the highway leading to Canyonlands National Park. Their Wynn-ing guide was doing that for them, providing historical and geographical facts along the way. Everyone else in the van could sit back and soak in the scenery on this — and every — leg of Southwest Adventure Tours’ Mighty Five Guided Tour.
It took a few days for the heat wave to pass, but only a few hours for the diverse group to begin bonding on this guided tour of Utah’s national parks. Very personal memories and experiences were shared during the afternoon’s first hike. As the days went on, the bonds grew stronger. Some folks salivated over their love for dessert. Others reminisced about the Harleys they’d once owned. A passion for travel seemed to unite everyone. By the end of the trip, this random assortment of people with very different backgrounds and beliefs discovered they had a lot in common. They grew to truly care for one another.
There were the Jersey Sisters, Estephanie and Soraya. They were strong, smart women and savvy travelers. Long Island Larry wasn’t afraid to call it as he saw it. But beneath his tough New York exterior was a heart of gold. Jovial Joe and Delightful Doris had a zest for life that was contagious. Then there was the dynamic mother-daughter duo, Molly and Liz, with the kind of relationship every parent hopes is possible once the teenage years are in the rearview. Decade-early retirees Jon and Lori were always up for an outdoor adventure (and had the tans to prove it). Two casual observers from Utah.com rounded out the small group — one prolific with her pen, the other nimble with his gimbal.
The scenery on the Mighty 5 Guided Tour is also diverse. In fact, the variety is what was so appealing to this party of seasoned travelers — seeing Utah’s national parks topped bucket lists of international destinations.
You can’t explain the vastness of the west to a native New Yorker. They have to experience it for themselves. And though Long Island Larry was very vocal about his dislike for triple-digit temperature updates, he sat quietly in awe during several stretches of the Mighty Five Tour.
One day you’re standing atop a mesa in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district looking down its deep chasms carved by the river below. Another you could be wading through the water between thousand-foot cliffs in Zion National Park’s infamous slot canyon known as The Narrows. Or savoring every bite of that homemade peach pie you’re eating under a gnarly tree in Capitol Reef National National Park. Or watching the sun rise over Bryce Canyon, illuminating the hoodoos in more vibrant shades of orange, pink and yellow than any artists’ acrylic paint set.
Southwest Adventure Tours has itineraries for each of its expeditions, including the Mighty 5 Guided Tour From Salt Lake City, but they aren’t completely rigid. That flexibility is fantastic. On this tour, the Wynn-ing guide quickly adapted timetables based on the outside temperature as well as the wants and needs of the group. He knew everyone would appreciate the way Sand Dune Arch threw some shade on the Hades heat wave before heading to Landscape Arch, the longest in North America. Those who wanted to scramble up some slickrock to Navajo Arch could follow him. The Jersey Sisters enjoyed the scramble, noting that they probably would not have done that without a guide. Those who weren’t comfortable doing that could traverse easier side trails to see a few other arches in the area.
No, that isn’t a typo. It wasn’t supposed to be a citrusy idiom. We’re talking watermelons, folks. The average tourist usually stops at a fast-food franchise attached to a gas station to grab lunch as they drive from Salt Lake City to Canyonlands National Park. They don’t know about the riverside restaurant along the way that, as the T-shirts for sale in the lobby boast, is “So Tam Good!” Nor do they know where to find the award-winning watermelons in September. Or that the perfect place to slice the melon (that’s been named and belted into its own seat in the van) is at a picnic table looking out over the fantastical formations at Goblin Valley State Park three days later. And how about a dinner show with Nashville-style entertainment outside of Bryce Canyon National Park? Supporting local businesses is important to Southwest Adventure Tours’ owners and guides. And while others may overlook these stops, this crew does not. They know it’s the seemingly minor details between the major attractions that make the most memorable vacations even more memorable.
Even within the national parks, the Wynn-ing guide took time to point out little things along the way that those without a guide missed. When another hiker stopped to ask where the petroglyphs were on the cliffs along the Grand Wash in Capitol Reef, he knew she’d walked past them and invited her to turn around and join us for a few minutes so she could see them. In Zion National Park, he sighted a rare blue heron and pointed out the long-legged avian supermodel to the group. In Arches National Park he noticed Delightful Doris admiring some moonflowers and explained how the perennial plant unfurled each evening and would close its fragrant flowers by midmorning.
There were jaw-dropping moments during every segment of the Mighty 5 Guided Tour. Everyone in the van was awestruck on the stretch of Highway 12 dubbed The Hogback, grateful to have a professional driving on the razor’s-edge-of-a-road built atop steep cliffs … (gasp!)… without guardrails.
The group was also agog as they drank in the dramatic views at Bryce Canyon National Park. And again as they hiked through the varying hues of hoodoos on the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails. And again as they took in the vertiginous views from Observation Point in Zion National Park. Words and photos only offer a small glimpse of how stunning Utah’s landscape is. First-time visitors are often moved by the scenery — agnostics become believers and acrophobes become braver, inching their way closer to the edge of the lookout.
On a scale of one to heavenly, Utah’s national parks are divine. And Southwest Adventure Tours makes it easy to explore all five — plus two state parks! — in eight days. Short tours of Salt Lake City can also be added on to travel days. The excitement starts with a departure countdown on a travel app, which also includes a suggested packing list, your group’s daily itinerary, weather at each location and a quick way to share photos with other group members. Book your trip today and let the pros at Southwest Adventure Tours take care of all the details.