Drama Prevails at Utah’s Mighty Five

I first visited Zion National Park when I was 12 years old. I remember it well, as it poured down rain on our first night there, and instead of pitching a tent we spent the night in the car. Despite my rocky introduction to Utah’s national parks, that July night began what I can only describe as my ongoing love affair with Utah’s Mighty Five.

I’ve visited the parks a number of times in the years since then, and my love has only deepened for them. That said, if I could use one word to collectively describe them, it would be “dramatic”. The drama of nature’s forces — wind, rain and even snow — has shaped the canyons, cliffs, hoodoos and arches of the parks over the years. And that weather drama continues today.

As it so happens, I had a front row seat for that drama last fall, when I spent a month in Utah doing the final research and site inspections for this book. It started with a heavy rainstorm and flash floods. Charles and I were hunkered down in our Hurricane house when the deluge hit; but earlier that day we almost ended up in Hillsdale — where 12 people died in a flash flood — on our way back from Bryce. The storm was powerful, with winds blowing solid sheets of water vertically. I rushed to close our windows, but I was a day late and a dollar short, and I ended up with a sopping wet carpet.

But I fared much better than the seven hikers who were also killed in a flash flood in one of Zion’s slot canyons. Apparently they entered the slot canyon at the wrong time and couldn’t escape the rising water. Their bodies were found in seven different places over the next few days.

Then there was the rockslide. Again, an event we just missed. We had traveled down the Mt. Carmel Highway — which was blocked for nearly a week — the previous day. Because of all the rain, the mountain just gave way, and down it came, right in the middle of the road. Fortunately it happened late at night and nobody was injured.

And let’s not forget about the wildfire. We had a front row seat for that one, as we could see it inching up a nearby mountain from our dining room. The terrain was rugged, which made the fire unreachable by fire crews, so they let Mother Nature take care of it. In the end, the combination of wet weather and depleted fuel finally extinguished it.

Of course that wasn’t the only trip that I encountered Mother Nature’s obstacles; in fact I hit snow in Bryce twice in late April. The hoodoos are absolutely beautiful when they are coated with snow, but the weather in that neck of the woods is unpredictable.

I mention these instances not to scare folks , but to merely point out that the canyons and hoodoos are still being shaped by the forces of nature. Indeed it’s a dynamic process. That said if you approach it with a healthy dose of respect, and head the warnings posted at ranger stations and visitor centers, you should be fine. Take a look at the weather forecast, and watch for changing conditions. In other words, be prepared.

And just as you have to be prepared for Mother Nature, you also have to be prepared for access in Utah’s national parks. And that’s exactly why I wrote this book, so you can research things in advance, find accessible lodging, and decide which trails and activities are doable for you in these beautiful parks.

Unfortunately I encountered a number of hotel clerks and store employees who in their efforts to be helpful passed on some incorrect access information. For example one front desk clerk suggested I take the trail up to Weeping Rock in Zion, because it was perfect for wheelchairs. Nothing could be further from the truth as that trail is even too steep for power wheelchairs. Another helpful employee told me the Roadside Ruin trail in Canyonlands was a good accessible choice. Perhaps part of it is after you descend the stairs to the trailhead, but she left out the part that you had to scramble over several boulders to complete the loop. So that’s another reason I wrote this book – to dispel the misinformation.

I also wrote it because I’ve seen a great improvement in access in these parks over the years. In fact, in just this past year a five-mile wheelchair-accessible trail was added in Bryce, and another half-mile one was completed in Arches. And I hope to see more changes in the future, and when I do I will post them on

But mostly I wrote this book to encourage slow walkers and wheelchair-users to visit these gems. So I invite you to go out and see what these parks have to offer. Enjoy the drama of Utah’s Mighty Five, and let me know how it goes.

Candy Harrington