When I finally met Ryan Cornia in spring 2022, I felt as if I’d known him for years. He had, after all, introduced me to some of my favorite Southern Utah backcountry destinations—places like Burro Wash, Sand Creek and Sunglow Trail. And it was his words that both guided and comforted me as I stepped into the void for my first-ever canyoneering rappel at Cassidy Arch.
Cornia is the adventurer and writer behind roadtripryan.com, one of the best—if not the best—Southern Utah hiking and canyoneering blogs on the internet. From the early aughts to about 2017, he spent 100-plus nights a year sleeping outside while exploring deep into the Colorado Plateau, a sprawling desert landscape fanning out from the Four Corners region. When existing bloggers declined to share his beta (“Most bloggers seem to want to publish only their own content,” he says.), Cornia launched his site in 2006. “My interest in technology fueled the site at first,” he says. “But as time went on, writing about the adventures became as interesting as the tech part of it.”
Cornia attributes his exploratory drive and straightforward writing style, in part, to Michael R. Kelsey, a Utah native, intrepid desert rat and author of 14 self-published guide books. “His descriptions can be terse, and his hand-drawn maps require some study to ensure understanding,” Cornia says. “But he packs more information and history into his books than anyone I know.” Roadtripryan.com and its accompanying app remain a labor of love for Cornia—the offline navigable app downloads just cover hosting fees and maintenance. (His “real” job is as a software engineer for the U of U.) Both are easy to navigate and include detailed, never wordy trip descriptions with lots of photos. “I don’t want people to spend a whole hike or canyoneering outing with their nose in a guidebook or looking at their phone,” he says. “I want to give people clear information so they can immerse themselves and have a real adventure.” His site continues to evolve. The birth of his daughter in 2017 curtailed his wanderings for a bit. He’s (mostly) swapped open-air rappels and 20-mile hikes for desert storytelling strolls and hiding jelly beans along the trail for his 5-year-old, but he’s still immersing himself in Utah’s southern half. “As she gets older, we’ll add more challenges, but for now our focus is on fun.”