This article is the second in a photo journal travel series by Jen Frost. She and her family are on a one-year trip across the United States as they reconnect as a family, experience the natural wonders in the world God created, and see Catholicism – in all its uniqueness and beauty – across the country. This is their journey.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)
Living in California, we thought we knew the beauty of mountains. After all, we have the Kalamath Mountains, White Mountains, Santa Cruz Mountains, Tehachapi Mountains, Sierra Nevada Mountains … and that’s just to name a few. Upon entering Utah, and seeing the spectacularly dynamic red rock mountain country before us, we quietly sat in awe at the magnificent beauty before us.
We entered Utah from the east and arrived in Zion, a preserve named after the hill of Jerusalem on which the city of David was built. A National Park distinguished by steep red cliffs, hanging gardens, and meandering rivers, this city truly is a refuge.
The shuttle service, taking you from the Ranger Station at the entrance to the park, provides an informative history as it meanders through the park. To our left we saw The Patriarchs: three mountains named after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were large and powerful indeed as they towered over the canyon below, keeping watch over their lands.
After a careful selection of hikes, we decided to head to the lush destinations of Emerald Pond and Weeping Rock. The natural geology of the cliffs, made up of large portions of sandstone, form a natural path for water. As the water collects at higher elevations, it seeps through the sandstone and trickles down the sides, creating the ideal environment for life, including ferns, horsetail, and swallows. We breathed in the cool, crisp air if these oases, strolling beneath the falling water and marveling at the delicate balance of plants and animals thriving in the rocky terrain.
We returned a second day to Zion to hike The Narrows. A quick trip to Walmart to pick up water shoes, and we were on our way! This meandering Virgin River hike through the gorge leaves you surrounded by red rock walls over a thousand feet high on each side. Time slows down as the glacial water rushes over your feet and the heat of the desert sun virtually disappears behind the towering cliffs.
Just outside Zion is the small town of Kanab. Often overlooked by those heading to Zion, we were tipped off to two unique places by some of the local campers at the campground. The first stop was to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the largest animal sanctuary in the United States. They offer free tours of their grounds, and we were only too happy to learn that we would be spending time with the kittens! (A dog fan I am not.) The property, owned by this no-kill animal rescue and advocacy organization, was once the filming location of The Lone Ranger. Seeing the key filming sites on this 3,700 acres of natural red rock was an unexpected highlight of this unique visit.
While in Kanab, we also visited the Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park. You guys – we went sledding. Sledding! Down the sand! After a long (and hot) hike up to the top of the sand dunes, we settled onto the sled and flew down the pink sand, arriving at the bottom covered in the fine coral dust. The feeling of the hot sun on your back as you sped over the sand was absolutely exhilarating!
We stopped in St. George on Sunday, not only for Mass at St. George Catholic Church but to visit the LDS St. George’s Temple. While the Catholic Church (pictured right) had a detailed statue of St. George on the altar, it’s George A. Smith, a Mormon disciple, who gave this town its namesake. The Mormon temple was also named after him and, built 141 years ago, was one of the earliest temples in Utah (pictured left). The architecture was outstanding, especially considering how little technology was available in 1887.
We enjoyed a tour of the LDS Visitor’s Center, and even picked up a bit of Catholic history. The first high Mass celebrated in Southern Utah was not celebrated in a Catholic church, but at the LDS St. George Tabernacle. Over 3,000 people were in attendance at Mass, and surely were left in awe of the beauty coming from the choir – for it wasn’t the traditional choir, but the LDS Tabernacle Choir themselves! This beautiful story of interfaith service left our hearts full of hope as we said good bye to Southern Utah.
We were ready for some city life after a week in nature, and headed up to Salt Lake City to visit some friends and explore the state capital. Wanting to ensure our little guy had plenty of child-level experience, too, we visited the SLC Library — and wow! This blew away any library I’ve ever been to before. The entire library had been built around the concepts of both open space and natural light. This translated into a library made almost completely of glass – including a glass elevator which we naturally had to ride. The best find was the complete Henry Huggins (by Beverly Cleary) series, which we had just finished the audiobook for. Seeing some of the sketches was wonderful!
After, we went to vespers, devotions, and Mass at the Salt Lake City Cathedral. The photos can’t even begin to express the beauty and solemnity inside this holy place! The Cathedral of the Madeleine is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, and frescos of key events in her life cover the walls. Our two favorite images of her were her washing Jesus feet with perfumed oil as Judas looked on in mild disgust, and Mary being the first person (a woman!) to arrive at the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. This gorgeous cathedral was built by the same Father Scanlon who presided over the first Mass in St. George many years prior.
Our last stop in Utah was in Moab to see Arches National Park, where we again were witness to some of the most unique rock formations. It was also a bit unnerving to stand beneath them, knowing they could come down at any moment! The result of a salt basin, left after a sea evaporated millions of years ago, was still evident on some of the rocks – white salt embedded into the small fissures. We explored rock structures with poetic names like Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, Tower of Babel, and both the North and South Window.
Before heading out, we went to Mass at St. Pius X in downtown Moab. This lovely little church has just over 20 pews inside! As Mass came to a close, just before the final blessing, the priest asked all visitors to stand. We stood – along with well over 80% of the congregation. We were amazed. The priest explained how this was a mission parish, supported by Salt Lake City for the express purpose of serving not only the small community at Moab but all the tourists that come through the area each weekend. Can you imagine going to a parish where, at a given time, almost your entire congregation is transient? After working in a parish, I can’t imagine what this would mean for the programs, events … everything.
We are continuing to grow as we journey through this beautiful country, and thank you for your prayers of support and safety! We’re so excited for this trip! We invite you to join us on the road as we explore the natural wonders that our beautiful country holds, and as we visit cathedrals, shrines, and see the beauty of our faith along the way both here on Catholic Mom and on our Instagram account, where we’re sharing regular updates of our trip. If you’re in an area we’re visiting, we would love to meet up!
Copyright 2018 Jen Frost