Along for the Glide: Taking Flight in the Valley of the Gods in Utah

photo by Chris Burkard
 Photograph by Chris Burkard

The Valley of the Gods, in southeastern Utah, epitomizes wild country. With no established trails, campgrounds, or facilities, the 35-square-mile expanse receives far fewer visitors than does nearby Monument Valley, making it a prime spot for rugged backcountry hiking. But perhaps the best way to explore it is not on foot but from above, as Shane Denherder, an Army helicopter pilot turned paraglider, can attest.

A powered glider “gives you the ultimate freedom to explore,” he says—though not without the occasional hiccup.

On a recent outing, Denherder ran out of fuel as he approached his rendezvous point with photographer Chris Burkard. This would’ve been catastrophic in a different kind of aircraft, no doubt. But with the paraglider, Denherder safely descended some 2,000 feet, and even circled a 350-foot-high formation called DeGaulle and His Troops (seen here).

“I wasn’t stressed about it,” he says. “You just glide down softly and land.”