Southwest Roadtrip

Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake

At the end of September, we went on a roadtrip through Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah to visit a variety of state and national parks.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  The following are the places we visited:

Antelope Island State Park:  After flying into Salt Lake City, this was our first stop.  We wanted to see the Great Salt Lake, but you really can’t see the lake from the airport or Salt Lake City.  We, however, could smell the lake, which had an intense ocean smell that was a little stinky.  We drove up to this state park, which had great views of the lake, embedded with haze and surrounded by arid mountains.  The lake had great reflections of the mountains.  Sage grew along the arid slopes.  We saw buffalo and there were mini-tornadoes of black flies; the didn’t bite.  They fed on algae in the lake.  I walked down to the lake on the black, stinky crust and touched the water.  It didn’t seem extremely salty.  This state park was worth seeing.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park:  Here is the Waterpocket Fold, where the Earth’s crust has been upturned.  It is a stunning national park with canyons, slot gorges, arches, and vivid colors of red, white, and grey.  The sunsets were spectacular.  A unique aspect of the park are the fruit orchards, where people can pick fruit and pay $5 per pound.  We picked apples and pears, and they were delicious, lasting us to the end of the trip.  The best $5 we spent.  We also enjoyed seeing some petroglyphs.  Highly recommended.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument:  The drive from Capitol Reef to Natural Bridges was stunning.  We saw redrock and white canyons, rock formations, and distant mountains across plains of sage.  We also saw the Colorado River and the end of Lake Powell.  Natural Bridges is isolated and beautiful.  It is located in a canyon of white bedrock with three huge natural bridges, some of the largest in the world.  Natural bridges are different from arches in that they are formed by water flowing underneath them.  There were Puebloan ruins in the cliffs.  The white canyons were graceful with swirling lines in the rock.  I wished I could’ve hiked the trail at the bottom of the canyon and spent more time in this park.  Highly recommended and a true gem that is often overlooked.

Moki Dugway and Goosenecks State Park:  We drove south from Natural Bridges on a paved road on the top of a mountain.  The paved road promptly ended and became a dirt road that snaked along cliffs to the valley below.  This was the Moki Dugway.  It was a little hair-raising, but worth it.  We reached the bottom, back to a paved road, and drove by the Valley of the Gods.  We reached Goosenecks State Park, which is nothing more than a view of a deep, twisting, barren canyon of the Colorado River.  The canyon was dark from the shadows of the setting sun; far below we could see some rafters deep in the canyon.  This state park was a quick stop, but the view was impressive.

Mittens, Monument Valley

Mittens, Monument Valley

Monument Valley:  We drove to Monument Valley Tribal Park, famous for its buttes and mesas and being the setting of many John Wayne movies.  It embodies some of the classic scenes of the wild west.  It is also on Navajo lands, and the poverty was extreme.  We camped at Gouldings, and saw the famous Mittens the next morning.  Entering the tribal park was expensive, and the drive through the valley is something I wouldn’t do again.  The views down in the valley were great, but not worth the time to negotiate the rutted, sandy, dusty road.

Four Corners:  We then drove to the famous Four Corners, where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet.  It is another Navajo tribal park and it was a tourist trap.  It was neat to be in four states at once, but I would not go back.

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument:  We drove to New Mexico and visited this park.  I highly recommend it.  The ruins were impressive and we could walk through many of them.  It is called “Aztec” because it was originally believed the Aztecs built the ruins, but the Puebloans did.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park:  An incredible and diverse park with canyons, vistas, and of course, the amazing cliff dwellings.  We walked through one of them called Spruce House.  The size and craftsmanship were impressive.  These people were advanced, storing water in reservoirs.  Cliff Palace was amazing, but it was closed to visitors since part of it is subsiding.  We hiked the Knife Edge and Petroglyph Point Trails.  Mule deer were a common sight.  The beautiful canyons are something I didn’t realize existed in Mesa Verde.  Highly recommended.

Soda Canyon, Mesa Verde

Soda Canyon, Mesa Verde

Durango and Route 550 (Colorado Rockies):  Durango was a nice town and we headed north on 550 into the Rockies.  Incredibly beautiful with the aspen trees turning yellow.  We stopped by Silverton, one of the highest towns in the country.  The road was insane, hugging cliffs and ravines, twisting and turning along the way.  In many places, one lane was closed for construction. I’d like to spend more time in the Rockies.

Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:  What an impressive park.  It is the greatest canyon in North America based upon both depth and narrowness.  It has dark walls of volcanic rock, with swirls and ribbons of white rock that resemble dragons.  The canyon goes straight down to the roaring river below.  Much different from the Grand Canyon.  Highly recommended.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Colorado National Monument:  Another little known park. Incredible towers, canyons, and formations of red and orange rock.  Mostly a drive through the park, but highly recommended.

Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Moab/ Up the Creek Campground:  We took the scenic drive along the Colorado River to Moab.  I highly recommend it.  Beautiful canyon scenery with towers of red rock.  Many primitive campgrounds along the river.  Moab is a nice town surrounded by bare rock.  We stayed in the town at Up the Creek Campground to serve as a basecamp.  From there we visited Arches and Canyonlands, but also walked around Moab.  It was perfect.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

Arches National Park:  This famous park is worth a visit, but also very popular.  The countless arches were incredible, and this park had the most diverse and numerous rock formations of any park we visited.  There were fins of rocks, towers, pinnacles, and of course arches.  Double Arch and the Windows are must-sees.  The hike to Landscape Arch is worth it, as is famous Delicate Arch, which was crowded.  I wish I had time to go one the guided Devils Garden hike.  This park is highly recommended.

North and South Window, Arches National Park

North and South Window, Arches National Park

La Sal Mountains:  We took a drive up into the La Sal Mountains in Utah.  This smaller range offers a taste of the Rockies, and the aspen here were yellow as well.  It looked like a beautiful place and I was glad I got to see them up close instead of from miles away.  These mountains can be seen from Arches, Canyonlands, and even Mesa Verde National Parks.
Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park:  This is mostly a driving park to views that look down on the plateaus and canyons far below, that seemed to have white rims and towering rock formations.  The views were vast and amazing.  Mesa Arch is a must-see and Upheaval Dome was unique.  We saw some ruins, called the Granaries, hidden in a cliff.  The highlight was a hike on an unofficial trail to the False Kiva, a ruin in an isolated rock overhang built by the Puebloans.  The view from the kiva was incredible.  Nearby were holes in the clay where the Puebloans stored their food.  It was a special, spiritual place.  Sadly, the site has degraded significantly since the 1960s.

Corona Arch

Corona Arch

Corona Arch:  Near Moab are the Bowtie and Corona Arches.  The hike is fairly easy as it winds up and open canyon.  Bowtie Arch is unique and Corona is impressive due to its size.  Highly recommended.
It was great to explore another region of the country that is so different from Pennsylvania.   Take the time to see some little-known parks and preserves, it is often worth it.  This was an amazing trip and I was happy to see some places I’ve always wanted to see.  The U.S. is an incredible country with so much to see, get out there and experience it.
More pictures.
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