A love for nature and a curiosity about Utah drove the Jazz’s Ricky Rubio to explore redrock country

Jazz point guard visited Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon last month on an epic road trip.

Courtesy Ricky Rubio Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio spend his All-Star break exploring southern Utah.

Ricky Rubio has loved venturing into the wild since growing up in Spain. He once did a night hike to summit a mountain near his hometown of Barcelona, a route that took eight hours and finished at sunrise. He visited each of the Great Lakes when he lived in Minnesota.

He’s had an itch to go explore his new home since he was traded to Utah last July, but there wasn’t much time to indulge with national team commitments, Jazz training camp then the regular season. The 27-year-old Jazz point guard wanted to see the state where he now lives — the home of natural wonders he only ever had heard about or seen pictures of.

Rubio wanted to see Utah for himself.

“We’re wearing these jerseys, and I want to know where they’re coming from,” he said. “And now I know. I just know. I see it. I want to know what kind of state I live in. … Basketball takes me to all these amazing places, and I want to know more about them.”

Rubio feels that he has a better handle on why the Jazz chose to celebrate southern Utah in their City Edition jerseys this season (they’re currently sold out) after sojourning on a whirlwind few days through Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks last month. Touring the state with eight of his friends from Spain, split between two RVs, he was able to get out into nature, which is one of his lesser-celebrated passions.

Rubio tires of planes with constant charter flights all over the country. He’d rather jump in a car to go on a vacation. And there’s a social aspect to road trips that he loves, too.

“You just spend more time with your friends,” he said. “You get more closer, and you have those empty hours you get to know each other. They’re better.”

Rubio finally was able to plan that road trip in February, when the NBA stopped for the All-Star break. As his teammates took off in planes for California, Florida and Mexico, he started loading up the RVs.

That started with what any good road trip needs: provisions.

“We filled the RV with a lot of bad things: Oreos. Chips Ahoy. Kit Kats. All kind of candies,” he said. “There were like three or four days where I could eat everything I wanted.”

Rubio got to spend the most time at Bryce Canyon on his February trip, seeing the hoodoo rock formations that draw in visitors from around the world. He and his friends stayed for the sunset — then a little longer.

“It was something that was incredible, just how big it was, how peaceful,” he said. “I’d never seen so many stars in the sky. It was so pure.”

...cuatro amigos

A post shared by Ricky Rubio (@ruuufio) on

While Rubio was recovering from a hip injury and the training staff advised against strenuous hiking, he was able to do some easy hiking at Zion, his next stop. Rubio also wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, but he was running low on time to experience it how he wanted. So he drove to Las Vegas and took a helicopter flight for a quick visit.

One of the bonuses of traveling during All-Star break, Rubio said, was that he and his friends often had the spots to themselves. Although he’s taller than most at 6 foot 4, he has a way of blending in by wearing hoodies and knit caps that don’t give away that he’s an NBA player.

“I was kind of low key,” he said while smiling. “There were nine of us. It was hard to spot me.”

While his teammates got tans, Rubio got a deeper appreciation of where he lives — the state he’ll probably be calling home through at least next season, the length of his current contract. And since he’s running point for a 39-30 team that has won 20 of its last 22 games, Jazz fans are embracing him as well.

It’s nice to know where you fit in out in the world, Rubio said.

“It was great, it was something that was breathtaking,” he said about his trip. “You see out there and you feel so small at the same time. You see how peaceful can you be in a place like that.”

SACRAMENTO KINGS AT UTAH JAZZ <br>Where • Vivint Smart Home Arena <br>Tipoff • 7 p.m. Saturday <br>TV • AT&T Sportsnet <br>Radio • 97.5 FM/1280 AM <br>Records • Sacramento 22-47; Utah 39-30 <br>Last meeting • Utah won 98-91 (March 3) <br>About the Kings • Sacramento ranks last in free throws made (12.6) and attempted (17.1) per game. … Rookie De’Aaron Fox is averaging 11.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game after being drafted No. 5 overall last summer. … The Kings are 0-2 against the Jazz this season, with both losses coming at Sacramento. <br>About the Jazz • Utah has won eight straight games overall with the last six coming by 14 points or more. … Rudy Gobert is averaging 19 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks while shooting 66.7 percent from the field during the winning streak. … Joe Ingles has made 176 3-pointers this season, which is only two off the team’s season record of 178 held by Randy Foye.