Summit and Wasatch counties, Utah. — Midway resident Jennifer Price loves to venture off the beaten path, and this past year has provided more opportunities than roadblocks for her family of seven. And why shouldn’t it? Utah’s world-class backcountry offers the ultimate in social distancing, and there’s no better time than the present to explore the unexplored.
Temperatures are rising, snow is melting, school break is coming, and there’s no need to buy plane tickets when one can rockhound a crystal mountain, marvel at thousand-foot spires in Navajo country or literally soak in nature’s splendor, for not much more than the price of a tank of gas.
Here’s how these locals are spending spring break:
Rockhounding at Topaz Mountain and Beyond
Topaz Mountain is a hidden gem about two hours southwest of Provo and is a favorite for the Price family. “We love to hunt for topaz (a pinkish crystal that turns clear when exposed to sunlight), amethysts (a purple variety of quartz) and bixbyite (a metallic-black rock),” Price said. “We also enjoy exploring the Dugway Geode Beds and abandoned mines.”
For rockhounding rookies, she recommends stopping by U-Dig Fossils 52 miles west in Delta, where visitors receive tools and training on the 40 acres of freshly excavated shale.
Stephanie deGraffenried, a geologist for the Bureau of Land Management’s Fillmore Field Office, said the area has seen an uptick in visitors during the pandemic. She recommends bringing a five-gallon bucket, a pick/rock chisel and a quarter-inch sifting screen. “The Topaz Dome Quarry is well-marked and people love searching for Utah’s state gem (topaz) in openings in the rock called ‘vugs,’” she said. “If you make a reservation with Topaz Mountain Adventures, they do blasting in the area a couple of times a week to ensure you find something.”
The Four Corners Region
For Park City dentist Cody Calderwood, the popular Four Corners monument (the quadripoint where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet) is underwhelming. “We instead love to make Bluff, Utah (pop. 320) our basecamp. It’s a small Mormon settlement on the banks of the San Juan River where you can visit the River House, a cliff-dwelling site and explore the growing artist community.”
Cody advised travelers to head south from Bluff on Highway 191 and drive the 17-mile loop in Valley of the Gods past Cedar Mesa sandstone monoliths. Next, he recommends the mind-blowing Moki Dugway, a steep 3-mile serpentine climb up a graded dirt road (a detour left at the top takes you to the stunning Cedar Point and Muley Point Overlooks). “We also like to go to Goosenecks State Park which has a fantastic overlook of a series of tight ‘gooseneck’ loops of the San Juan River, similar to Horseshoe Bend near Page, Ariz. without the crowds,” he said.
Nearby, you’ll find Mexican Hat, Utah’s well-known formation that resembles an upside-down sombrero.
Good news, Bad news. The Good: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is renowned for its world-famous mythical formations Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. It is one of Cody’s Top Five Places in the world for sheer beauty, its colors described in 1880 by Geologist Clarence Dutton as “deep, rich and variegated, and so luminous are they, that light seems to glow or shine out of the rock rather than to be reflected from it.”
The Bad: The ark is temporarily closed during the pandemic – but watch for reopening updates and keep this on your Four Corners region bucket list for next time.
Tour de (Hot) Springs
What would be a nice reward after a year of distance learning and Zoom meetings? A relaxing dip in natural thermal pools. Midway resident Lisa Coleman said her clan loves to do hot springs-themed trips. “We start at Crystal Hot Springs in Honeyville, Utah, which has the world’s highest mineral content,” she said. “We head north to Downata Hot Springs in Downey, Idaho, where it’s fun to stay in the Conestoga Wagon Co. Thirty minutes away, you’ll find Lava Hot Springs, which has an Olympic-sized swimming complex and the lovely Sunken Gardens.”
Ellen Collette of Midway said Meadow Hot Springs, smack in the middle of Fillmore, Utah’s farmland, is clear, clean, deep and fun. “The owners will let you camp nearby, and you soak at night too; just remember to bring your glow sticks!”
If you like a hippie, unkempt vibe, try Mystic Hot Springs near Monroe and, if you’re staying close to home, check out The Homestead Crater in Midway. Soak under this 55-foot limestone dome, take a SUP yoga class or get SCUBA certified in the only warm diving destination in the Continental United States.
Because when the world reopens for that long-awaited exotic vacation, we’ll be ready.