A Weekend in the Most Unlikely of Places

A few months ago, I found myself in the most unexpected vacation spot: Provo. Utah. No, it’s not someplace remote or unheard of, but it was the last place on Earth I ever thought I would find myself. See, I was supposed to go to college in Provo. Suffice it to say the life I expected to find in Provo was not for me, and I cancelled my enrollment just a few weeks after graduating high school. Instead, I joined my best friend on a cross-country road trip to Florida.

Taryn Studying a United States Map on our Road Trip to Florida
There’s that infamous best friend now, way back in 2007! Please note the excellent DIY Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix shirt.

It’s a story that I’ve written many times, and I won’t bore anyone with its dramatic re-telling now. Ever wondered how I ended up in Orlando? Now you know.

Still, I’m a sucker for any place with good mountain views and decent hiking trails. Say what you will about Provo (and I’ve said plenty in the past), but I couldn’t resist a chance to escape the Orlando humidity and breathe some fresh mountain air. When my younger sister, a freshman at BYU’s Provo campus, told me about her plans to road trip it back to Washington with our dad after school ended, I immediately looked up flights to Utah.

Rocky Ridges on Provo's Rock Canyon Trail

One month later, I was on a short flight from Orlando to Salt Lake City, my excitement replaced with gnawing anxiety. I never thought I would step foot in Provo again. What the hell was I doing!? I should have listened to my mom, skipped the road trip, and just booked a flight directly to Seattle.

All of that anxiety faded when I saw my dad at the airport. Every time I visit my family, it feels like no time has passed at all since I last saw them. Dad was exhausted from driving all day, but we found our way down to Provo fairly quickly. We checked into our hotel a short distance from the college campus, and passed out for the night.

The next day, we woke early and met my sister Michelle in her apartment. Let me tell you, I wish my first apartment was as nice as hers! It had great modern finishes, plenty of natural light, and a gorgeous brick exterior set against the mountains that surround Provo. She gave us a quick tour of her place, and we were off for a late morning hike up Rock Canyon trail, just minutes away from her apartment.

Dad, Michelle and I About to Hike Rock Canyon Trail in Provo, Utah

We overshot the trailhead, and as we picked through the rocky landscape in search of a clear hiking path, Michelle lamented that she had never hiked this wonder in her own backyard. We took pleasure in clambering over loose white rocks and through scratchy plant life, emerging at last a short distance up the trail.

Michelle on a Scary Swing Near Rock Canyon Trail in Utah
A terrifying little swing which, as it turns out, was not actually on the hiking path at all…and which sank several inches when my dear sister sat down for my photo op.
Michelle in a Rocky Stream Bed Near the Provo Canyon Trail
Still not on the path…this family is all about making our own way!

I won’t lie. This hike, which I thought would provide a moderate workout (I’m smashing my head on the keyboard now, as I see that AllTrails.com has ranked it as difficult), was rough. The first part of the trail featured a moderate incline over a path of small loose rocks. I didn’t realize just how out of shape I was, until I was gasping for air, staring hopelessly at an endless rocky incline. You guys, I’m totally being dramatic here. It wasn’t that steep. But somehow that made everything worse.

Michelle and Dad Enjoying the Rocky Rock Canyon Trail Landscape

Of course, I’m sure the change in elevation didn’t help. Provo has a general elevation of 4,549 feet. I knew it would be a change from the temperate, low-elevation Orlando climate I’m used to, but I had no idea how extreme the difference would be. A quick Google search tells me all I need to know: Orlando sits at just 82 feet above sea level.

What I’m trying to say here is: I am a moron. My dad and sister are saints for dealing with me as I gasped my way up the trail.

I tried to focus on the sights all around me, and not on my tight chest or the rocks threatening to twist my ankle with each step. It really was a beautiful hike, with vibrant plant life, clear blue skies, and those massive mountains rising up on either side of the trail. I was happy for the opportunity to stop every few minutes and take a breather snap some more pictures.

A Gentle Stream Along Provo's Rock Canyon Trail
Gorgeous little stream just off of the hiking trail.

Short of branching off to climb to the top of Squaw Peak, the trail didn’t seem to lead to any stunning views or end of any kind. After hiking toward nothing for a while, we found a parallel trail down the mountain, and began our descent.

Michelle Trying to Catch a Butterfly
Michelle waiting for one of the many butterflies to land on her finger.

Without the strain of endless climbing, I was free to take in the beauty that surrounded us, and I began to feel like I was in a fairy tale forest. Bright little ladybugs flitted from rock to rock, and butterflies soared across our sunlit path. Even the path itself was better, the rough rocks replaced for a ways with soft brown earth. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail, I felt just as satisfied as if we had actually hiked to Squaw Peak.

Panoramic Shot of the Rock Canyon Trail in Provo, Utah

We rewarded our efforts with a huge lunch at Cafe Rio, a charming, bright little Mexican chain in town. Prior to the trip, I had researched several tasty-looking restaurants, with the intention of avoiding all chains. But Michelle spoke of this one so highly, and I do love Mexican food, so I was happy to make an exception. Spoiler alert: our dining in Provo was mainly limited to chain restaurants, but since none of them are available to me in Orlando, I didn’t mind at all! Lunch was delicious. Ordering was a Chipotle-esque affair: choose your meal (burrito, tacos, etc.), then adjust meat and toppings to your liking. Michelle and I ordered pork quesadillas, while Dad opted for a fantastic enchilada.

Pork Quesadillas at Cafe Rio in Provo, Utah

My small headache grew and morphed into an awful case of altitude sickness as we packed up and headed off to our next destination: the BYU Museum of Art.

Entrance to the BYU Museum of Art

Provo is a college town, and most of the tourist activities are part of the university. My discomfort grew as we weaved through the exhibits, stopping to admire Japanese sculptures and paintings of America’s past. My favorite exhibit, which moved to a new location in June, was The Infinite Possibilities of Origami. Along with several very impressive origami sculptures, the exhibit featured a look into the ways origami has influenced math and science.

Flowers and Dinosaur Origami at The Infinite Possibilities of Origami at BYU Provo

For example, students at the university created a compact, origami-inspired solar panel that could be launched into space and expanded to its full-size once it reached its destination. Curious? You should be. Click here to find out more from Phys.org.

After the museum, we decided to head back to the hotel and take a break from sightseeing. Dad and Michelle checked out the pool, while I crawled into bed and attempted to sleep the altitude sickness off. By the time I woke up again, it was time for dinner. At Michelle’s suggestion, we headed to JCW’s, a local burger joint that was founded in nearby American Fork. It struck me as a regional chain, similar to In-N-Out, but it is actually one of just four locations, housed exclusively in Utah! I ordered a burger with bacon and guacamole, and a small chocolate milkshake…which turned out to be massive! I was still feeling pretty ill, so I spent most of the meal staring longingly at my burger and taking tiny sips of the delicious, creamy milkshake. If I ever return to Utah, I’ll have to return to this restaurant, which had an impressive array of burgers and interesting milkshake combinations, and give it a proper review.

The first day was over, and despite that horrible altitude sickness, I was happy to be in Provo with my family. We dropped Michelle off at her apartment, and went to sleep at last, hopeful that I would feel much better in the morning.

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