United States of America
Adventure on Tap
Within hours of flying in, our group is already travelling into the deep, ancient mountains of Zion National Park, near St George in the southwest of the state. This is a place steeped in natural wonders, adventure experiences and it's one of the very few states in America ripe for those looking to experience the outdoors in its rawest form.
We arrive at the famous Angel's Leading Ledgewalk via ferrata in Kolob Canyon, and very quickly I understand that Utah is not the place for your average outdoorsman. For the uninitiated, via ferrata means 'iron path' in Italian and is a type of climbing apparatus whereby metal rungs are drilled into vertical cliff faces thousands of metres in the air. Whilst the climber is attached to a steel cable, they walk across the cliff face with nothing but empty space and a cavern below them.
This particular via ferrata is advertised as something one can do from years 8 to 80, but obviously your comfort with heights may limit that severely. While you can now do via ferratas round the United States, here in Utah it affords you two spectacular advantages. The first is that the landscape here is nothing less than jaw dropping, as you spiderman through the seemingly painted chasms like you’re in a Kate Starling painting.
The second is that you're guided by the man who actually created this particular course. Ian Crowe’s background in engineering affords you not just the benefit to ask a bunch of probing questions, but the added security knowing that if you go down, he’s going with you.
The next morning before the sun rises, we’re at Zion Outfitters sliding on thick neoprene socks and waterproof orange hiking boots. Before long we’re marching down a river flowing freely in an extraordinary cavern with walls about 150 metres high. The idea of walking in water for five hours sounds like a particular type of machiavelian torture chamber, but in reality it is one of the most amazing earth grounding experiences you can have in the natural world.
The walls are striated in reds, golds, blacks and whites, while trees sometimes defy gravity from cracks in the surface, and the rocky outcropping afford amazing light and shadow photo opportunities.
The water in late summer for a tall person can come up to your waist, higher in spring, and even higher the further you walk upstream, but the wetness of this experience is a welcome cooldown from the Utah heat.
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The following day, no longer waterlogged but definitely feeling the memory of the trail's watery beauty in my quads, we find ourselves in the darling hamlet of Cedar City. It's a quirky model all-American town with an actual replica Globe Theater. As in, famous playwright, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which our host Becki Lewis tells us is a major draw for the iconic town.
“We do about a dozen productions a year and people come from all over, even New York where the acting troupe is from. We have seminars before and after shows for anyone that wants to learn more about the plays. It's a great way to get introduced to Shakespeare, even though we do other more contemporary plays here as well.”
But art thou looking for outdoor adventure in Utah? Back to the epic. Brian Head Resort is an epic ski destination in Southern Utah. This unplugged destination offers some amazing powder snow and epic backcountry skiing opportunities throughout the winter, and all without the crowds that typify the resorts up north.
In the summer, the fun doesn't stop, as mountain bikers flock to the hill to fly down at breakneck speed. At Capitol Reef we stop at a pick-it-yourself cum honour system apple orchard, grabbing a few ripe Red Delicious off perfect trees which could be cartoons. I throw some cash in a little basket hanging on a tree like something out of the 1920s.
The next day is a bucket list moment for myself - a filmmaker in another life - when we visit Sundance, the mountain resort made famous by the film and arts community that resided and worked there. We visit exquisite restaurants and famous Owl Bar, frequented by the likes of Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford.
While most of our travelling group take to the mountain to hike or bike, I opt to instead visit the local art studio, to learn from the myriad artisans how to spin plates, make jewelry or in my case, perfect the art of crafting beautiful, artisan candles. I love bringing a bit of hand made magic home from magical places.
We stay in ‘Switzerland’...or as close to Switzerland as possible while still being in the southwest of the United States. Zermatt Utah Resort is an eerie carbon copy of it’s Swiss namesake. Complete with chateaux style hotels and mountain cuisine, Utah’s Zermatt Resort is something to behold; a grand hotel with spa and ski service, and quite simply the best apple strudel you can find in the New World. It's kitch and crazy and I loved every minute of it.
At Soldier Hollow in Midway, a town which hosted the Biathlon event for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, we strap on some roller blades and roll around shooting precision .22 caliber rifles at targets, all while being guided by a Olympic Biathlete Zach Hall. I never gave the Biathlon much thought when watching on TV, but after channelling a little of my inner-James Bond, it is my new favorite event.
IT IS TRULY A UNIQUE ADVENTURER’S PLAYGROUND, READY TO BE DISCOVERED. JUST BE SURE TO PACK AN EMERGENCY STASH OF BOOZE AND WATERPROOF SHOES.
On our final night we land in Salt Lake City; a brackish mix of staunch belief and wild outdoorism. It’s surrounded by geological brilliance, and cultural importance, and an interesting history beginning with its Mormon founders.
This is a unique American city where the food and bar scene is cosmopolitan and prolific, but with a sprinkling of country hospitality. During the day, we explore Utah’s famous Natural History Museum which resides right along the great bath tub ring of the Great Salt Lake, with a petrified ocean that you can see from space and a fossil record that would amaze even the most advanced of paleontologists.
In the evening I dive deep into the bowels of the city and explore Carson Kitchen, a modern American eatery where every plate is a welcome adventure. Then at Fisher Brewing Company, I finished a beer flight featuring every ale on the menu before seeking out a nightcap at an alluring establishment called BAR-X, which made me feel like I was back in a trendy part of East Village, New York rather than a Mormon-stronghold.
Even the arduous stumble home to the Peery Hotel was a delight in itself, this old Grande Dame of lodging made me feel honoring it's historic roots while prioritising modern comfort.
In the morning I leave the mountains for my metropolis home, and I marvel out the window at the immense span of land beneath me. This is some of the oldest earth on Earth, a wilderness that many visit, but fail to even scratch the surface.
Utah is not glamorous from the outside. It's probably not yet fully set up for hordes of tourists, but therein lies the beauty of this natural amphitheatre.
It is truly a unique adventurer's playground, ready to be discovered. Just be sure to pack an emergency stash of booze and waterproof shoes.
Qatar Airways have flights from most major Australian cities to Salt Lake City, via Doha.
Zion – you can’t get much closer to Zion then the La Quinta Suites
Salt Lake City – The iconic old school chill of the Peery Hotel