Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

It was supposed to be the ultimate father-son bonding trip but, after his father died of cancer, David Leffler was left to embark on his epic American road trip alone. To his surprise, each kilometer brought him closer to salvation.

On an icy morning in early December, I step out of my car and into southern Utah’s brisk winter air. Trying to warm myself up—it’s been below-freezing for the past week but today’s forecast projects a balmy temperature of five degrees Celsius—I throw a beanie over my head and glance around.

I’m surrounded by towering peaks, icy ridges and striking red rock, all of which are caked in a thick layer of snow from a recent flurry. A minute later, a family of deer scampers across the nearby road, their heads swiveling and ears fluttering before disappearing into the forest. In front of me, a large stone sign reads: “Welcome to Zion National Park.”

“Man, Dad would love this,” I mutter to myself, thinking back on all the stories about the American West—of cowboys, Native Americans, settlers, soldiers, and vast, boundless wilderness—that my father told me as a child.