Top five road trips for mud season

Spring is upon us. Despite its snowy start, I have a feeling it will end with mud. It's the perfect time to get out of town for a weekend or a week in search of adventure, warm weather, or dry earth -- or some combination of the three. 

5. Picketwire Canyonlands, Colorado

This network of chasms on the southeastern plains gets pretty steamy come summer, so it's best to hit it before the next equinox. It's a worthwhile weekend camping/hiking/biking destination, featuring remnants of its 19th-century vaquero era, the Purgatoire River, and a shelf of limestone embedded with one of the world's best dinosaur track sites.

4. Big Bend National Park, Texas         

One of the last North American frontiers, Big Bend National Park and its gateway town of Terlingua are two of my favorite spots in the West. The park's majestic canyons can hit 150 degrees Fahrenheit here in  August, so it's best to float them in the spring for reasons other than the runoff situation. Same goes for the hiking, although the park's higher elevations remain 15 or 20 degrees cooler -- its highest mountain, Emory Peak, abruptly rises to 7,825 feet above sea level. Another good reason to backpack the South Rim in spring: more drinking water.

3. Baja California Sur, Mexico

Despite the drug-war trouble in Mexico, there is something about a spring blizzard in Colorado thaat makes me long for a margarita in Baja. I've taken spring trips to Los Cabos (hated it), La Paz (loved it), and Loreto (on the fence). My next destination in B.C.S. is Mulegé (below), about 100 clicks north of Loreto and the greenest spot on the arid peninsula.

2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho

I've spent more time in Yellowstone than I have in any other national park and spring is my favorite season. (My dad and I are heading back this year.) Sure, it can be a bit chilly, but the hordes have yet to arrive, and the bears are wide awake -- and hungry. If you hit Yellowstone in May, you'll likely see ten times the grizzlies and wolves you'll see in summer, and one-tenth the humans -- although pretty all of them are lined up along the side of the road in the Lamar Valley with cameras and scopes.

1. Southeastern Utah

Beat the heat and the crowds by heading to our prim-but-beautiful neighbor's awe-inspring geological wonders before summer commences. You can't miss with Moab/Arches/Canyonlands, but I also enjoyed the hell out of a springtime trip to Bluff a few years back, centrally located for day trips to Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments, Monument Valley, and Goosenecks State Park -- where Thelma and Louise bit it in the end.

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