My Informal Guide to Utah

I started graduate school in August 2019, which makes this year the first time I’ve had a legitimate spring break. It also marks the first time I learned that grad students don’t get a spring break because “SpRinG BrEaK iS nOT A ReSeArCH HoLidAY.” Therefore, for all intents and purposes, this is only a hypothetical guide, because I would never take time off and I live to work and be paid poorly and treated poorly and would never leave Cambridge.

I’ve broken this guide into the two regions that I visited in Utah this trip, but it should be noted that I have spent time in Zion/Bryce section of Utah as well (in 2019) but I don’t wanna write about that. I also wrote some longwinded thoughts about vacations and my life in general at the end, read what you want I don’t get any money from this blog.

Things To Do in Moab

Trails:

View Under Corona Arch
  • Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail — The sight of that famous arch swinging video that went viral in 2015. This is a super popular trail at any hour, so don’t expect to have it alone. The arches themselves are very pretty, so I would recommend this trail if you want an easier 2.4 out and back, and want to see some arches without having to formally go into Arches National park (which is on the reservation system now). If you are deathly afraid of heights, there is some exposure, but nothing comparable to the Zions Landing
View From Top of Butte
  • Aztec Butte Trail (Canyonlands NP) — I feel like this trail was rated easier than it actually was? This trail involves some scrambling to get to the Butte itself, and some very steep rock you must go up. If you don’t feel comfortable scrambling or don’t have shoes with good grip, maybe pass on this one. This trail had nice views and wasn’t as packed as everything else in Canyonlands.
  • Mesa Arch Trail (Canyonlands NP) — The quintessential trail people will ask you if you did when you visited Canyonlands. Not accessible to wheelchair users but not steep. Very packed, the view is pretty, but I am (personally) biased to views that are more private.
  • Double Arch Trail (Arches NP) — Honestly, I feel like Arches could be super accessible to wheelchair users if they invested in their infrastructure a little bit more. There are a ton of <1mile trails in Arches to see the rock formations, this is one of them. If you are not super into hiking/have joint issues that make long walks hard, I feel like a lot of Arches would be a good time because it only requires a little bit of walking to see cool things (The whole windows area is pretty good in this regard).
  • Delicate Arch Trail (Arches NP) – the quintessential trail people will ask you if you did when you visited Arches. One of the ~longer trails in the park. Its the thing on the Utah license plate. There are a ton of people there always. Idk what else to say

Food

The coffee shops in Moab?? kinda go hard. Everything else restaurant wise is pretty standard, but I would recommend:

  • Love Muffin — Not gonna lie, I initially thought this was a sex shop by the name. Its literally a muffin place. They have some strong coffee, solid muffins, and good breakfast burritos. (And we are measuring breakfast burritos here on satiety, not on authenticity).
  • Moab Garage Company — If you’re looking for climbing partners, I would say go here. Just hardcore climbing vibes, stiff coffee and some pretty unique sandwiches.

What I Didn’t Get To Do That I Think Would Be Fun (and my intuition is pretty great)

  • Grandstaff Trail — Its a hike that features a waterfall AND an arch at the end AND it’s not formally in a national park so you don’t have to reserve it. As a plus for me, its also one of the longer trails around (5.7 miles), to get some steps in.
  • Doughbird — There were literally donuts the size of my head. I was too weak and afraid by their sheer power and didn’t try them, and I regret it.

Things to Do in Salt Lake City (and SLC Adjacents)

Trails

View From The Top of the Y
  • Y Mountain — This is partially a classic trail for BYU students, and also a literal mountain. The first mile is STEEP and goes to the top of the BYU Y, which is a huge letter on the side of the mountain. The rest of the uphill (abt 2.5 miles more) is a mix of mud and snow. It was SO PRETTY, and I am willing to bet it will be that pretty year round. The snow was about 2 feet deep, which made trail running slow going, but it was so lovely to hear the birds and breath the fresh air. At the summit, there’s a great 360 view of both Provo and the surrounding mountains.
  • Battle Creek Falls Trail — Another steep trail with all kinds of terrain. Starts out with lose gravel, then ice, then mud, then snow at the top. Very fun to run down. About one mile in there is a waterfall, at the top there’s a view of the city but its not super climatic, as this trail ends and leads into others if you want to make a bigger loop
Waterfall on Battle Creek Falls
  • Antelope Island State Park — This is a criminally underrated state park. It’s right next to the Great Salt Lake, and it has great views of the lake and the mountains. There’s a herd of buffalos that live on the island and they do not give a shit that people come visit, they are everywhere which was really cool to see.

Food

  • Ruth’s Diner — this is partially a choice for the aesthetiqué. This diner was originally founded in 1930, its a renovated train car with a lovely patio that has a huge diner menu. They’re most famous for their mile high biscuits, which are these huge fluffy biscuits that are like 3-4 inches tall. Fun history fact, the diner is situated in Emigration Canyon, a town the Donner Party past through on their fateful trip.
  • Brookers Founding Flavors Ice Cream — genuinely surprised this place does not exist in Boston. It’s a revolutionary war themed ice cream place? All the workers have to wear revolutionary war hats and blouses, I felt so bad. The ice cream has really long titles like “Nathan Hale’s Only Regret – That He Has But One Flavor To Give to His Country”. The campiness of it makes it fun, I think the ice cream is pretty standard though.

Overall Thoughts on This Trip (The Trip That Did Not Happen Because I Live to Work)

MIT has been straight up mean to me in year 1 of the PhD. Like objectively a more brutal experience this year than the average student in the department. My advisor has been incredibly harsh with her feedback, I still don’t have a topic, and I’ve been told to figure it out on my own soon or just drop out. It feels like I have so much stacked against me lately, and its been looming over everything I do.

But this time in the outdoors, especially the mountains, has been so grounding. I’ve been constantly carrying this huge weight of having to figure out my PhD alone and feeling lost in my abilities as a researcher, as a student, and even as a human being. Throwing myself into the mountains, trudging through miles of deep snow and knowing that I am capable, that I know how to figure out where to go, is so affirming. I am not a bad student. I am not a bad researcher. I am hard working, I made it to MIT, and I will figure out this stupid PhD.

Utah was never going to fix everything that has been going on with my life right now. But it did give me a needed boost to keep going. And if the worst things happen, after this trip at least I know for a fact that I would smoke my advisor in trail running.

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