The style of road trip that I subscribe to is surprisingly laissez-faire, especially for someone who spends as much time worrying about things out of my control as I do. Essentially, it's this: Drive, then figure out the rest when I get there.
Owing to the vastness and environmental diversity of California, it's easy to forget that there are just as many incredible places in just as “short” a drive if you wander out-of-state. There's some mental barrier in the made-up boundaries of place, and crossing state lines makes distances feel somehow farther (a thought exercise: Imagine being asked where you were last weekend and answering somewhere a state over instead of where you are now—feels huge, doesn’t it?).
Enter: Zion National Park, one of the United States’ foremost natural wonders—and surprisingly roughly the same distance from Los Angeles as Yosemite. Yet I rarely hear of folks heading there from LA. Recently though, my friend Jenn and I decided to spend four days in the park and its surrounding areas. I’ve been a few times, but mostly by myself and mostly before I had any confidence or interest in hiking. So this time would be different.
"A road trip without expectations enables delight in all directions."
One of the great joys of Zion is that the mountains are cut into a lifted portion of the Colorado Plateau, rather than rising up from the earth like, say, the Sierra Nevada. It is a canyon of giants, sculpted by millions of years of water; towering sedimentary behemoths. To stand at the bottom of the canyon and look up is to feel the presence of pure and total majesty.
On this recent trip, we coupled scenic drives with shorter hikes, and, on the latter half of the trip, an experiment in canyoneering. I didn't have a waterproof camera rig to bring photos back from that part of the adventure, but trust me when I say that I had never known myself so capable as when I was descending 100 feet straight down, with only my hands on a rope to keep me from certain death.
We mostly avoided the main road and explored the northwest section of the park, as well as a few gems outside of it—if you find yourself near Zion, make sure to stop by Cedar Breaks National Monument. As per any good trip, we encountered some joyful surprises: wildflowers peeking from rock cracks, a pickup truck with no less than six hounds in the bed, a pair of goats being trained for hikes.
Perhaps this is what I love most about road trips—it's so much easier to embrace the unexpected. Put another way: A road trip without expectations enables delight in all directions.