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I was dragged to Utah a few summers ago. Not quite kicking and screaming, but definitely taken against my will to hike in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, which, from all pre-trip appearances, were a collection of arid, rust-colored landscapes that made me thirsty just looking at them. The two parks and Utah in general, however, had long been at the top of my husband’s wish list for a hiking trip, and since all of our travels for years and years had been my choices, I gave in. (Nice of me, I know.)

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I’m always looking to escape from the U.S. at least a few times a year, often, admittedly, to see things that are quite similar to the places I eschew here at home. (I was desperate to see dusty red Jordan, for example, but snorted at the idea of dusty red Utah.) But I knew I needed an attitude adjustment because my own country contains a vast assortment of destinations, and I finally succumbed to my husband’s pleas to see more of our homegrown scenery, particularly the national parks.

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I am a big fan of state and national parks. My parents stuffed our family of six in the car for innumerable trips to these treasures in the eastern and southeastern U.S., and I’d adored them. I loved road trips, first of all, and even as a child, I relished being in the untrammeled outdoors, sinking my boots into pine needles in the Appalachians and breathing in the earthy smell of the dark, loamy soil in the Great Smoky Mountains. We clambered over rocky balds in the Shenandoah Valley, swished through dune grasses from Cape Cod to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and explored spooky Mammoth Cave and other caverns and hollows in Kentucky and Tennessee.

But what all those parks had in common was greenery and/or moisture. I loved the mossy clumps along woodsy paths, the smell of mildew in an old cabin, the dripping of leaves on my rain jacket in a forest, even the clamminess of a bathing suit at the shore. The desert had none of that; it was dry and dusty, odorless and often colorless. It made my eyes and nostrils itch, and I hated the grit it deposited on my skin. In short, it left me cold.

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But I went. Our first stop, Zion National Park, had more varied terrain than I’d expected, and I started the trip on a surprising high note. We had an invigorating wade through the Narrows (water!),

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numerous hikes through treed paths and ravines (green!), and some good steep climbs to various outlooks, including Angel’s Landing.

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The scenery was truly majestic, and I ate my negative words about Utah many times in those first few days of hiking.

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I adored the little town of Springdale where we based ourselves, and I looked forward to walking into Zion every day for a new and different adventure, even gaining an affection for the (dry, dusty, red) slot canyons.

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Bryce Canyon was our next stop. For years, I’d heard people rave about Bryce Canyon and, really, how could I not find the surreal assemblage of hoodoos fascinating? I’m glad I saw them. They made for some great photos.

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But we trudged for hours and hours through this baking forest of pale, parched towers and, dare I say, it was pretty boring and exhausting after the first oohs and aahs.

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It did redeem itself at sunset, when the shadows and cooler air sharpened my sense of the place, replacing the desiccated blandness at high noon with a pleasing line-up of variegated figures in the evening.

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In the end, Zion and Bryce and the land in between were a nice sampler in our quest to see more of our national wonders. I left impressed and grudgingly appreciative of both parks, although Zion was the hands-down winner in my book. The trip served a second purpose – getting us on a mission to see more of the national parks – and we followed it up with a trip the next summer to Glacier National Park, much more my kind of place!

This year is the U.S. National Park Service’s 100th birthday – get out and see one of these national gems soon!

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