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Zion National Park is stunning. Beautiful. Awe-inspiring. But it’s also crowded. With more than 4.5 million visitors a year, Zion was the third most touristed National Park in 2017. Yosemite was the 5th most visited (with 4.3 million guests) and boasts nearly 1200 square miles of land to explore. Zion has just 232. If you’re measuring per square foot, Zion is packed.
At Uproxx, we don’t mind sending you to popular places. They’re beloved for a reason, after all. But we also want to help you explore tucked-away locales and lesser-known experiences. Which is why we’re spending the next month chasing the destinations that don’t get as much love from the masses, trading the most popular vacation spots for adventures that will surprise you.
We’re starting in Utah — swapping a trip to Zion National Park with a chance to explore the massive swaths of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in the state’s southeastern corner. To guide us through the region, we enlisted adventure photographer Josiah Roe. Having made his career telling photographic stories of off-the-beaten-path adventures, Roe is the perfect traveler for the task.
“I’ve always been a map nerd,” he says with a laugh. “I love to go to where the map ends.”
One of Roe’s all-time favorite spots is the area outside of Bear’s Ears National Monument. Since much of this zone is BLM land, you can visit, camp, and hike for free. This is where you’ll find two of Roe’s favorite vistas on earth, Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods*. We asked him to guide us on a tour of both.
*Note: Both Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods became protected land under Bear’s Ears National Monument during the Obama administration, They lost that status in 2017 when the protected land of Bear’s Ears National Monument was reduced by 85 percent.
How to Get There:
ROE SAYS: I was driving on my way from Colorado to San Francisco. I hung a right at a sign that said “Valley of the Gods,” and as I was rolling in right at sunset, there were thunderstorms barrelling through and yet… the sun was still setting and shining. I just got out of my van and got teary eyed. I was floored at the unbelievable beauty of it. It’s still one of the top 10 greatest, most beautiful moments I’ve ever stumbled across.
In the years since that day, I’ve come to realize that Valley of the Gods is a really fascinating part of the Colorado Plateau. It sits in this wedge between the San Juan River and the Colorado River. The Colorado River and the canyons there, which feed all the way to the Grand Canyon, form this divide through Central and Southern Utah. It’s always tricky to get over and through. There are only a couple of ways over — one would be in ferry — so this whole area of Bears Ears ends up being one of the least explored sections of Southeastern Utah.
It has a very small population but it has this incredibly old and rich history with Indigenous people and first nations there. So there are incredible pueblos and ruins and over 100,000 archeological sites — it’s just incredibly rich with history going way, way back.It’s also wildly diverse and they have these views over canyons, 3000, 4000 feet deep where it’s also wildly empty. There are just such wonderful places to explore if you take the time.
DETAILS: Set your navigation for “Mexican Hat” and you’ll end up on the road toward Valley of the Gods. If you’re a film fan, this road is where Forrest Gump stopped his famous cross country run.