Our family took “the scenic route” back to Ohio at the end of my job assignment in Colorado. The most direct route would have been mostly east and slightly north. Instead, we started by traveling slightly west and mostly south — towards Utah and Arizona.

Our first destination was Arches National Park in Utah. Before we even got to the park, though, we marveled at the red earth, towering cliffs, and desert vegetation along Utah Route 128. It felt like we were driving through a cowboy movie or a Looney Tunes animation, yet we were a part of the landscape!

Arches National Park was beautiful, if perhaps a bit on the warm side (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the evening). The red-rock features stood out sharply against the pure blue sky.

The natural formations were enormous, but they were also accessible. We climbed on them and through them and around them. It was fun!

An hour before sunset, we started hiking towards the most iconic arch — featured on the state license plate, the state quarter, and some of the alternative branding by the Utah Jazz basketball team — Delicate Arch. We couldn’t see the arch at all until the final bend, about 1.5 miles from the trail-head. But the payoff was totally worth the wait. And as we hiked back to the parking lot in the deepening dusk, we watched the stars come out one by one. It was a pretty magical way to experience Arches National Park.

The following morning, I enjoyed a run up one of the canyons immediately adjacent to Arches National Park. It was one of the most memorable runs I’ve ever done in my life. I started to run out of energy about two-thirds of the way through the run, as the sun climbed over the canyon walls. So I felt pretty physically-depleted, as we started driving south from Moab, but also simultaneously emotionally-energized.

Our family hit the road by mid-morning, with our sites set on the Grand Canyon — but before we got there, we decided to make a slight detour to see a place where four states come together at a single spot. The “Four Corners Monument” is administered by the Navajo Nation, and they charge five dollars per person to see what is essentially a run-down rest stop in the middle of the desert. Still, it was kind of cool to get a family portrait with Marci standing in Utah, me standing in Colorado, Olivia standing in Arizona, and Cor standing in New Mexico.

By the middle of the afternoon, we made it to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. And while the Grand Canyon bore some superficial similarities to the mountains of Colorado (in their vast grandeur) and the canyons of Utah (in their color and climate), it was set apart by its seemingly-infinite openness. It just felt like the empty space between the two rims of the Canyon went on forever! It was simultaneously awe-inspiring and fear-inducing. The environment didn’t lend itself to as much interactivity as Arches National Park, but it was still a wonder to behold.

From the Grand Canyon, we dropped due south to spend the night in Flagstaff — where Historic Route 66 would frame the rest of our road trip, zooming back to the Northeast. Our time in the Southwest was limited, but it was a special spot for a family vacation..

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