As national parks traveler Mikah Meyer wrapped up the last leg of his journey across the western state of Utah, he appears to have saved the best for last -- with visits to Bryce and Zion national parks -- the last two of the five national parks that make up the ‘Mighty 5.’
Hoodoo! Who knew?
Mikah was one of millions of visitors who are drawn to Bryce Canyon National Park each year. The park is home to the world’s largest collection of hoodoos -- giant pillars of rock that were sculpted by erosion millions of years ago.
“What makes this place unique is that it's not just like one, or two, or three, like you’ll see in many places,” Mikah noted. “It’s thousands!”
“Native Americans believe the hoodoos were former humans that were turned into rock,” Mikah explained. “I don't know the whole story,” he added, but that was one explanation provided about the ancient formations that rise from the earth seemingly out of nowhere.
Observing the odd-shaped pillars from one of the many overlooks was special, Mikah said, but even better was "hiking down into them and exploring the hoodoos up close." He especially liked looking up at some of the hoodoos that were supporting massive rocks on top of their thin pillars …
“You wonder at what moment… that giant rock is going to come tumbling down and will I be underneath it when it does?”
Mikah had arrived at the park just in time for the sunset, which gave the surreal landscape a warm, golden glow.
“Man, am I glad I did!” he gushed. “I parked the car… ran out to the overlook and looked at the view and said to myself ‘this is a 10 -- it's a 10 park.’ I mean the view was just so incredible… at sunset or not… it is one of the most other worldly places I've seen in the United States.”
During his visit to Bryce Canyon, Mikah encountered an unexpected obstacle: a group of cows standing in the middle of the road, refusing to give way. At one point, he was worried one of the animals was going to charge his van, but instead, it took off, leading away the rest of the herd.
Utah’s first national park
The bovine roadblock was just a momentary distraction as Mikah made his way to Zion National Park, which welcomed almost 5 million visitors last year, making it the fifth-most visited national park in the United States.
Many consider Zion the granddaddy of all the Utah parks.
“I think what makes Zion so spectacular is this combination of red and orange rock, and lush green forests and plants,” Mikah said. “So many places are either lush greenery or stark canyons in orange and reds, but Zion National Park has both.”
Zion Canyon is the main focus of the park, Mikah explained, where “on every side you look, there is another peak that looks like a mountain in its own right, except they’re all together, all lined up on each side of the canyon.”
Angels Landing – a devilish climb
One of the most popular hikes is up Angels Landing, a 454 meter (1,488-foot) tall rock formation that’s considered by many to be the most challenging and dangerous trail in the park.
“What makes it so popular and so well-known is that for the last portion -- maybe the last half mile -- you are up on a very thin strip of rock; and it's thin enough that the park service puts a bunch of chains that people can hold onto because since 2004, six people have fallen and died.”
It does look intimidating, Mikah admitted, “because you’re going along this thin strip of rock and either side you look, there’s very quick, dramatic drops all the way to the canyon floor and you see the shuttles driving by and the river passing through, so I think it's popular because of this risk element that's added into these dramatic views.”
But Mikah was undaunted, and described his four-hour roundtrip hike as a “very cool experience."
On his second day of his visit, Mikah was invited by a group of experienced hikers on a 4-hour, back-country hike up a high plateau made up of sheer rock face, which had no trail.
“To get there, it was climbing on all fours, it was sliding down sheer rock faces, some of the guys cut their legs and they said, ‘oh, you know, it happens. Now that just proves that I was out here today.”
When he reached the peak, his fellow hikers asked him to sing, which he agreed to… belting out the National Anthem over the canyon.
"These gentlemen I was hiking with, most of them have never heard a Countertenor -- which is a male Alto or Soprano -- so I think they were shocked and surprised by that,” Mikah said, adding that he was surprised by the echo of his voice bouncing off the canyon walls, “so we all got something unexpected!”
The Mighty 5
As Mikah wrapped up his journey across Utah, he observed that the “Mighty 5” parks -- Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks -- are especially popular among foreign tourists.
“It’s an incredibly international audience at all these five sites,” he explained. “More so than any other site I've been to, tenfold.”
After spending time in those magical places himself, Mikah can understand why.
“The concept of how long nature and animal life has survived on its own without any human interference creating these majestic spaces that have changed by centimeters every year, and we’re witnessing this one speck of time in its marvelousness… it’s definitely a lot to wrap your mind around.”