Steamboat Springs The canyons of southeast Utah are the obvious first choice for frozen mountainfolk who want to escape mud season and already have used up their serious-fun tickets.
Most 'boat people drive no farther than Moab and Canyonlands, and that's a shame. On the western shore of Lake Powell is a vast tract of the Colorado Plateau comprising the San Rafael Swell, Capital Reef National Park and the Escalante Grand Staircase.
It's easy to make a trip to Moab in the course of a long weekend. But, road warriors with a full week to explore can make it all the way to one of the most mind-boggling natural attractions in the entire Beehive State -- Zion National Park.
At first glance, Zion might seem a little tame for adventurers from Routt County -- you must park your private vehicle and ride a propane powered shuttle bus into the trailheads with visitors who obviously hail from all over the world. Many of the trails have been paved with cement made out of sandstone aggregate. Don't be fooled; most of them climb steeply, and hikers often find themselves within 3 feet of sheer cliffs that drop away 1,500 feet to the Zion River Valley below.
If all of the improvements necessitated by Zion's 2.5 million annual visitors make it seem like the antithesis of wilderness, the exotic waterfalls and fern grottos of the side canyons will win over most visitors from the mountains. Anyone who is bent on avoiding other people on the trail can obtain a backcountry permit and head for the deepest recesses of the Kolob Canyon country on the park's northern end.
The Virgin River is the key to Zion National Park's past and present. But without the help of the Hurricane Fault, the little river would never have created the staggering 2,000-foot sandstone monoliths of Zion.
The river's seasonal floods carry bits of abrasive sandstone that have carved the canyons, but the towering monoliths of Zion, often likened to stone temples or cathedrals, can be attributed to the Hurricane Fault. The fault describes the southwest boundary of the Colorado Plateau and is responsible for dramatic "up thrust" that has pushed the surrounding landforms to more than 10,000 feet over millions of years.
The sheer cliffs of Zion are 2,000 foot beds of Navajo sandstone that have been thrust vertically out of what is now the valley floor. The park's slot canyons were created by streams cutting through pre-existing cracks in the sandstone.
Rivers such as the Virgin, which flows year round, are a rarity in extreme southeastern Utah -- the valley is only 160 miles from Las Vegas and its withering heat. But the Zion and its tributaries support lush flora, including giant cottonwood trees, Douglas firs, gambel oak, cacti, yuccas and a species of maple.
Fall color enthusiasts in the Colorado Rockies can catch the peak of the aspen at home during the first week in October and still have ample time to catch the turning cottonwoods and maples later in the month in Zion.
And there's always Sin City, just three hours down the Interstate, where weary canyon hikers can obtain hot showers, good grub and easily rid themselves of their extra pocket change.
Zion is worth driving the extra distance.