4 places to visit off the beaten path “Out West”
By Katy Clarke
When my husband and I decided to take our campervan trip, we really had no idea exactly where we wanted to go. Our first thought was “Out West.” Ok, that narrows it down, doesn’t it? So, in comes the compromising… ten years of marriage has taught us well. The natural default would be to hit the big National Parks, but we decided to go with lesser known locations that neither of us had ever visited or heard of, for that matter.
1. Valley of Fire State Park
Our first stop was Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Just a short hour north of the madness of Las Vegas we lucked into this wonderful hidden gem. Our original plan of attack was to head straight to Utah, but that had to be modified at the last minute due to winter weather closing the route we had planned to take. Thank the Lord for winter storms, because this was a fabulous alternative.
We hit Valley of Fire on a quiet day and had plenty of time to explore. First up were the Beehives rock formations that were right off the road and easy to hike through. Then, we checked out the Atlatl Rock and climbed up to see the ancient petroglyphs before heading over to check out Arch rock.
2. Fire Wave
Then it was onto the main event, hiking out to Fire Wave. Fire Wave is the marque rock formation of the park and well worth the 1.5-mile round trip hike. It was like walking on the surface of the moon. The formations were beautiful.
3. Quail Creek State Park
The drive towards Utah was absolutely breathtaking. My husband finally stopped counting the number of times I said, “WOW!” during our drive. We camped in St. George, Utah, and happened to stumble onto Quail Creek State Park. This little site was so gorgeous we stopped both on our way into and back out of Utah. Situated right on the water with mountains all around, it’s the perfect little out of the way place to camp while still being close to all the big attractions.
4. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Then it was onto my favorite part of the trip, maybe any trip ever. I’m an undeniable animal lover, as is my husband. One place that’s been on my radar for years is Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located in Kanab, Utah. The nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary is my idea of heaven on earth, and here we were ready to volunteer.
I was not prepared for how absolutely incredible the scenery was here. Located at the top of Angel Canyon, it’s really hard to put into words how special this place is. Between the work they do and the location, I was on cloud nine!
Once we had our trip itinerary set, we easily scheduled our volunteer shifts online a few weeks prior. One big tip: during the busier season, we were told you have to book volunteer shifts much further in advance. We started with a free bus tour of the Sanctuary and then spent the rest of the afternoon volunteering with the adolescent dogs in their Dogtown area. Heaven!
The next morning was my personal favorite: volunteering in the pig barns. I know, not for everyone, but we had a blast, even my skeptical husband. Not many people can say they took two rescue pigs out for a walk in a canyon or tried to crate train another on their vacation, but we can!
Then it was onto our last volunteer shift, probably my husband’s favorite: Puppy Preschool. That’s right, we literally played with puppies for 4 hours. There were a few other tasks involved, but mostly it was playing with puppies. Fact: there is no way to not have fun when playing with puppies. It was a good day had by all.
Not only a good day, but a great trip. The go-to places are wonderful and are absolute must-sees, but I’m so happy we decided to something a little different this time. It made for a fun, interesting vacation where we also got to do some good at the same time.