Travel in a post-pandemic world is hitting a little different and why wouldn’t it? After two years of restrictions and a non-stop barrage of bad news, weary would-be travellers are purposefully chasing transformative experiences that will heal the soul and expand the mind. The same old cookie cutter vacay is not going to suffice anymore. Think more awe-inclusive, rather than all-inclusive.
When I returned to school a couple of years ago, I paid particular attention to the chapter in my Psyc 100 course on knowledge emotions; that is the feelings that foster learning, exploring, and reflecting. No doubt, it was because I was in the middle of a life-altering event, but I wanted to know more about those emotions and how to harness them. The emotions of surprise, confusion, interest, and awe are what push us to grow as people, and growth my friends is my middle name. Awe, in particular, is my new favourite emotion.
From my notes: awe is a state of fascination or wonder that is usually brought on by a profound experience. It is something we appraise as vast or beyond the normal scope of experience. That’s all well and good but how then does it propel you forward? For that, I’ll point to the science.
“Inducing goosebumps and dropped jaws, awe experiences are remarkable in their own right. Moreover, a growing body of research suggests that experiencing awe may lead to a wide range of benefits, from happiness and health to perhaps more unexpected benefits such as generosity, humility, and critical thinking.”
This, my dear friends, is where I hand you the awe-inducing adventure you seek. Please be aware that the following trip with Intrepid Travel may cause goosebumps, dropped jaws, increased heart rate, and overwhelming feelings of gratitude. I highly recommend you take this trip now and repeatedly continue to pursue awe near and far until you’ve reached peak personal growth.
Intrepid Travel calls this trip the Western USA National Parks Loop, but I’ve been a little flashier with my friends referring to it as the 5 Day Awestruck Adventure. I may let Intrepid Travel use that, but first let me break each day down for you in two parts; first the destination and second, why it delivers on awe.
Zion National Park
Oasis is a word we throw around a lot in society but not always accurately. You can tell people about your backyard oasis for example, or describe your day at the spa as an escape to an oasis but those things don’t typically invoke awe. Zion National Park is an actual oasis, and is absolutely awe-inducing.
When driving into Zion National Park, which is surrounded by desert, you can’t help but feel like you’re entering a space that should not exist. It’s little wonder then that the Mormon pioneers who settled in the area gave it a reverential name. It doesn’t matter what altar you bow at, the landscape here simply screams that there is something greater than us at work in the universe. With rock formations that date back 270 million years, a 2000 foot deep canyon, and stunning vistas at every turn, it’s easy to put a big fat check on the awe-inclusive list at Zion.
You’ll have roughly six hours to explore Zion, so be prepared to hit the ground running because you’ll want to see as much of it as possible. Your Intrepid guide will provide you with loads of information as you travel to Zion so that you can choose the best hiking paths ahead of time based on your physical abilities. Trails here run from easy to difficult, but are marked as such on all the maps and trail signs.
I started with a few members of my group at the Temple of Sinawava which is Stop 9 on the park provided shuttle bus. Buses run roughly every 7 to 15 minutes depending on the season, so no matter what, you’ll never have to wait long to move on to another area of the park. From The Temple of Sinawava my small group split up, with half headed to Angel’s Landing, while myself and another traveller decided to drop down to Stop 6 and explore the Emerald Pools Trails. I wish I could tell you that one path was more impressive than the other, but I simply can’t. When the stories and pictures were shared over dinner that night with our larger group, it was clear that none of us felt robbed, and we all chose the right path.
I am hesitant to pick a favourite stop on this trip, but if pressed I would have to say Bryce Canyon. Our day here moved me from awe to awestruck.
Not actually a canyon, but an amphitheatre, Bryce Canyon is much what I would imagine Mars would look like with its red sand and strange, otherworldly hoodoos. There are of course, many scientific explanations for these formations and more cerebral travellers will want to learn all about it, but personally, I was happy to let the wonder of it all sweep over me while hiking from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point.
You are free to set out on your own for the day if you so desire, but trust that your Intrepid Guide knows the best trails to take and heed their advice. Our guide Treviso was committed to our group getting the most out of each day and never let us down.
Lake Powell/Horseshoe Canyon
Lake Powell, as you’ve likely heard, is drying up fast. The second largest man-made reservoir in the United States behind Lake Mead, a visit here is impactful. Lake Powell simultaneously serves as a testament to man-made marvels and to climate change bellweathers. On the day we visited our guide informed us that water levels were at a frighteningly low 22%. Awe can sometimes invoke dread, and consequently inspire action. Travel that focuses on sustainability helps make better global citizens. Not a day has gone by since I left this trip that I haven’t thought about the looming water crisis and the 40 million people who will be affected when Lake Mead and Lake Powell dry up. It has pushed me to take more action in all the little things I do at home in regards to water.
From Lake Powell, we headed over to Horseshoe Bend. I have two words for you. Money. Shot.
There’s not much to do at Horseshoe Bend except take a lot of pictures (I easily took 100) and then just pause, put your camera away, and let the wonder of it wash over you. This view simply commands your attention.
You might not know the name, but you’ve definitely seen the the iconic Monument Valley before. Spanning 92,000 acres and located within Navajo Nation, you’ll recognize the rock formations immediately, from countless movies, TV shows, and album covers. This, however, is not what filled me with awe here, although the butes, mesas, and spires are fantastic. What caught my attention here was the story of the Navajo people—their past, present, and future.
Navajo Nation is a sovereign state that covers parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. Our Navajo guide shared stories of their past and some of their culture with us as we drove through the valley. In news that will shock no one, as the owner of a feminist broadcast I was particularly drawn to their matriarchal society.
If there was one thing I would have wished for on this trip it would be that we had more time to sit and learn more from the people of Navajo Nation. I am grateful though to have had the time we did.
The grand finale, pun absolutely intended, is at the Grand Canyon. This is one of those places that must be seen to be believed. There are no pictures and no videos that can accurately depict it.
What happened here to fill my soul though was not just the 6 million year old canyon in front of me, but a simple pizza. Only a few days prior, I hopped in a van with 11 strangers from around the world, and on the last night of the trip, I shared pizza and watched one of the most spectacular scenes in nature amongst friends.
Our Intrepid guide Treviso shared this fun tradition with us, and I grinned from ear to ear the whole time watching not just our group, but so many others, enjoy a slice with their sunset. Maybe I’m just a sentimental fool, but to me, it’s the connections we build with others that makes travel so awesome.
Disclosure: I was invited to join Intrepid Travel on their Western USA National Parks Loop trip. All opinions expressed here are my own. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to be witness to such incredible natural beauty in American’s southwest. I am awestruck.