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Driving Loop from L.A.: Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Arches & Canyonlands

Driving Loop from L.A.: Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Arches & Canyonlands

Old Sep 1st, 2010, 06:01 PM
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Driving Loop from L.A.: Monument Valley, Mesa Verde, Arches & Canyonlands

We had a great road trip just last month, so here's a report from our middle-aged selves, hope someone finds it useful:

Road Trip to Utah, Arizona and Colorado

I was just going to put some notes together to remember the trip by, but it started coming out like a Trip Report, so here it goes.

Friday August 13, 2010

Left Mike’s office around noon, headed up the 15 in some traffic, hoping to reach Kingman, AZ before too late, 331 miles Gardena to Kingman. At Barstow, it was a relief to leave the Vegas bound traffic and turn onto hwy. 40. Found a nice Days Inn in Kingman, across the road from the RR tracks. Loud AC unit, however. Dinner at some steakhouse on rte. 66, good steak and excellent cowboy beans, plus beer and country music at the attached saloon, complete with busty fat barmaid with extensive blue eyeshadow. Next morning, a nice run up at Hualapai Mountain park, pretty piney area with rental cabins.

Saturday August 14

After a decent breakfast at the Days Inn, we are bound for Monument Valley through the Navajo reservation (The Rez, as the lady at the Bluff hotel called it. What do the people who live there call it?). Passed through Williams and Flagstaff, turned north on hwy. 89. It is an annoying thing, along this stretch of highway 40 with views of the old Route 66, to have that Eagles song about Winslow, Arizona stuck in your head for an hour. Stopped at Sunset Crater just past Flagstaff, not too exciting after seeing so much Hawaiian lava. Mile upon mile of beautiful but empty land through the rez, with scattered impoverished-looking Navajo mobile homes and ratty villages, skinny dogs and runty horses. Stopped for sandwiches at the hugest gift shop we’d ever seen, Cameron Trading Post. Actual Navajo people working there! Would have loved a couple of hours to pick through it. Turned onto Hwy 160, passing through Tuba City & Kayenta, then hwy 163 onward to MV. We reached MV Around 2 or so, 325 miles from Kingman, checked out Goulding’s Lodge and the nifty little film museum and house. There was an adobe cabin that was used as John Wayne’s office in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Lots of John Wayne worship around here, should have bought a cheesy coffee mug with his face on it. Drove the 17 mile loop through the mesas, terribly bumpy and dusty, rental vans full of French tourists everywhere. Want to pay $2 to sit on a stunted Indian horse holding a rifle and wearing a duster, with the buttes in the background? In the heat? The Navajo Reservation is huge and mostly empty, many questions popped into mind about how the people make a living. At some point we passed a coal mine that had an overhead conveyor belt leading to a huge silo, with a railroad track dead ending at it. My map showed that this track only goes to the Navajo power plant at Page, near Lake Powell. Not much farming that we could see, just lots of open land. We had originally decided to spend the night in Bluff, Utah, 40 miles further on, and go back to MV in the morning, but by 5 we were “done” so we headed onto Bluff to stay at the Recapture Lodge and have din at the Cottonwood Steakhouse. Excellent BBQ and beans and blueberry pie, you keep the red bandanna napkins as a souvenir. Fine little hotel, we were only 2 of 4 Americans staying there, all the rest French people. Monument Valley was fine for a couple of hours, not any more, for us anyway.

Sunday, August 15

Bluff is one of those cute little 150 year old Utah towns, old stone homes, beautiful sandstone rocks. Ran around town in the morning and up to the cemetery above town, which included an Indian underground structure. Peaceful and picturesque. Now we are a day ahead of our sightseeing, so we decided to cancel our second night in Cortez. Add that to Zion at the end! Cortez was only 77 miles from Bluff along hwys. 162 & 160, so we arrived in time for a Taco Bell lunch and an afternoon visit to Mesa Verde. Southwestern Colorado is very much cowboy country. Detoured off to see the Four Corners monument. Rather lame, but surrounded by Navajo booths selling jewelry & such. More actual Navajo people to talk to! Friendly enough, no hard sell, some lovely jewelry. Got Blake an arrow, & me & Alison earrings and a copper turtle necklace. There is a Navajo AM radio station, 960, that was fun to listen to on the way, broadcasts in Navajo and even a bit of chanting. More Wide Open Spaces and even some wild horses.

Arrived at Mesa Verde around 1:00, we had time for the two guided tours, Balcony House at 2:30 followed by Cliff Palace at 4:30. Balcony House is the one with one very scary ladder and two somewhat scary ones, plus a small hole to crawl through. Blake would have barely fit, a large guy in front of us had to twist sideways. Did not chicken out! The ranger giving the tour at BH was interesting and informative, the one at CP was dull and blathered at us an awful long time while we looked at the dwelling from above. Perhaps he seemed more dull because we had just been given the history of the place by the other guy, but he gave us only about 15 minutes in the actual dwelling. The cliff dwellings are neat to see, perched in their overhangs, but they aren’t made of gorgeous stonework like the Incas did, much more rough. Saw a small herd of wild horses.

In Cortez stayed at the Best Western Turquoise, nice enough, but another loud AC unit. Cortez is one of those towns that rolls up the sidewalks on a Sunday evening. Din and beer at some tavern on the main street. Lots of microbrews in this area, and there will be even more at Moab. Beer has become fancy like wine, we are becoming lost.

Monday, August 17

Back up to Mesa Verde this morning for an attempted run along the Petroglyph trail, 2.4 miles round trip, supposedly. Mostly walking one and a bit miles along the mesa edge, petroglyphs not too exciting but nice to see. Ran back one and a bit miles along the mesa top to Spruce Tree House. There is a good museum here, lots of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts. They aren’t called Anasazi any more, some sort of negative connotation in the Navajo language. Means Ancient Ones or Ancient Enemy. Nuts and dried apricots and Cliff bars for lunch in the car, onward to Moab, only 115 miles away. Hwys 491 north and 191 north.

We pass through several small farming towns, more Middle of Nowhere, and see a couple of junk car lots with an incredible collection of obscure hulks from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Guess it’s hard to dispose of large obsolete mechanical objects around here. About 40 miles south of Moab we hit an amazing thunderstorm, we had seen the nasty black cloud earlier and wondered if we would drive right into it. Lightning, pouring down water, even some waterfalls from some red sandstone formations. We and many other tourists stop to photograph a nice little red flash flood, over a rocky area right next to the road. This is very entertaining to folks from southern California.

Up until this point, since leaving Flagstaff especially, we have driven through hundreds of miles of emptiness. No farms, no ranches, no cattle, just high desert brush and sandstone. We like it.

Clears up at Moab, but after checking into the hotel early afternoon (the Best Western Greenwell) we head 10 mins. up the road to see Arches NP. It starts raining again, so we are treated to black skies and lightning and flooding and waterfalls off the smooth red walls. We stay in the car. Back into town for din at Pasta Jay’s, all cleared up. Pizza, and trying to steer clear of the microbrews. I get a pint or two of something or other, then switch to Bud for the rest of the trip. Lots and lots of Europeans, mostly French for some reason. Because it’s August? There are French people on rental Harleys on some kind of excursion, there is a truck that takes their luggage for them, and they even have the usual Harley shirts and bandannas and tattoos and such. French Harley culture?

Tuesday, August 17

Brilliant blue sky this morning, clouds are completely gone. The hotel is right next to a small creek with a path along it, we run there for a couple of miles. Moab has a cool little city park by the creek with several outdoor xylophones and chimes and drums to play with, all sizes and tones. No graffiti or vandalism! Seems to be a very civilized town. Stuff ourselves at McDonalds, then head to Arches for miles of hiking. We stop at the visitor center and sign up for the Fiery Furnace hike the next day. We ask the girl if it would be cancelled if the weather was like yesterday and she responds, Oh, well yesterday was the first time it had been cancelled since so-and-so has been here, pointing at another girl. So how long have you been here? Seven months. I guess that’s lots of experience when you are 24 years old. Beware, the water at the VC is foul. Gorgeous sunny day, hiked up to all the major arches, must have totalled 10 miles, beautiful. In mid afternoon we go up to see Delicate Arch, 3 mile round trip hike that includes a mile or so up a hot, barren, rock slope. Lots of sweating European tourists to greet. Delicate Arch is gorgeous, perched at the edge of a sandstone bowl, how on earth did THAT get formed? A French man asks me to take photos of his family as they all walk out to stand under the arch, his English is excellent, he was stationed in Oklahoma for a while. He pronounces Zion Zee-ohn, and even says Alors! to his family. They are spending 4 weeks or so travelling around the southwest and enjoying it very much. He thinks $2500 for 12 days in a rental RV is a good deal. Many people seem to enjoy the rental RV thing, seems dismal to us, maybe it’s economical if you have a family.

At the Windows arch area we are amused by a New York-type (pardon the stereotype) dad nagging his teenage son about trivial behaviour in a loud New York voice, poor kid. He actually berated the kid about taking his glasses off with only one hand, when he’s told him and told him to remove them with two. Back to din and beer in town, sampled an India Pale Ale at McStiff’s, bleah. The bartender, who had plugs in his earlobes like most of the young guys here, could go on and on in detail about the various brew types and flavors. None of which we grasped. The old guy in the bar paying guitar actually wrote his own songs, all sounded rather alike.

Wednesday, August 18

On to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands this morning, yet another heavy McDonald’s breakfast in the car. Lots of land to look at, and we have our Fiery Furnace hike at 4:00. Canyonlands is mostly huge open vistas looking down on huge canyon formations, no short trails. It is all gorgeous views, but we discover that we prefer the nearness of the smaller sandstone formations at Arches. Back in Moab in time to pick up Subways for lunch and din, din tonight would be in the car at 7:00, after our FF hike, watching the red cliffs at Park Avenue get darker and the bats come out.

The Fiery Furnace hike was loads of fun, even though the 3 miles took 3 hours with a group of people and a ranger doing lots of talking. The ranger’s science and metaphors seemed a bit lacking, she was young. Some sliding along narrow awkward spots, only one lady in our group had much trouble. A little bit of rain and some thunder. The trail winds around through the bottom of red sandstone tower formations, supposedly it is easy to get lost. You either have to get a permit or go with a ranger.

Thursday, August 19

Down to the Needles section of Canyonlands today. Breakfast at Subway, in the car again, much better than the McDonald’s gut busters. We had planned to hike about 6 miles to see the Needles up close, but the road to the trailhead at Elephant somethingorother was closed due to flooding. We later drove over there and the road seemed open, but it got too late. This area is prettier than the Island in the Sky part. Newspaper rock is there, a huge and varied spot of petroglyphs, and the pretty rocks are more accessible. In the afternoon, back to Arches for a hike down Park Avenue, which we missed doing earlier. A threatening storm concerns me a bit, because we are down in a wash, but we just get slightly dripped on.
Back to town for din at Zax and normal beer. And a little shopping, drooling over the expensive Indian jewelry, and petting a friendly orange cat on top of a rug pile.

Friday, August 20

Got a res at the Canyon Ranch in Springdale, so off we go to Zion for a night. Mike has a spectacular run down the Colorado river along a quiet road that parallels it, wish he would have discovered this earlier. 343 miles Moab to Springdale along hwys. 70 and 15, we make it in time for Taco Bell lunch in Cedar City, then hikes along the River trail and Weeping Rock. We were going to go up the narrows, but the river is muddy. Doesn’t seem to stop anyone else. Canyon Ranch is small and funny, just OK, the large front window in the room doesn’t open, so it’s another noisy AC unit to put up with. Pizza and beer at the usual. It is lovely to be in Springdale again.

Saturday, August 21

Morning run up the canyon on the Pa Rus trail, facing the usual stiff breeze, then an actual non-car breakfast at Pioneer Lodge. Great pancakes with boysenberry syrup and eggs and bacon. Pack up the car, check out, then head up to Angels Landing for our very last hike on our very last day. The usual stuff up to this point, enjoying the breeze in refrigerator canyon, Gigi sitting at Scout’s Landing while Mike goes up the chains. Two condors soar around the landing, viewed from below and above. Then…

Mike appears at the end of the chains like he always does, but just as I am blurting out Did you see the Condors? He mumbles My wrist is broken, need to get down, fast. He had stumbled almost at the summit on a tree root or his own feet, going around a guy taking a picture. And crashed down not TOO close to the edge, so he says. Later found a photo of the exact spot on Yahoo images, it’s too close to the edge for comfort. Guy asks if he needs help getting down, but even with only one arm Mike can go down faster. Poor right wrist is notably out of line and swollen and he is in much pain, so we walk as fast as possible down the 2 miles to the shuttle bus. I ask the bus driver about the nearest urgent care, and luckily there is one right in Springdale. Sitting next to us is an ER nurse with a bag of ice, so Mike gets more attention than he probably wanted. As we exit the bus, the driver tells him I commend you sir, for sucking it up and dealing with it. We’ve had people want helicopters called in for less.

The urgent care in Springdale was friendly and quick, splinted and Xrayed him, and gave him a nice shot of morphine. Filled the pain pill prescription at a Walgreens in Hurricane which took about 10 minutes, and we were on our way to Vegas for the night, an easy 159 miles down the highway. Total time from fall to morphine shot, probably 2 hours.

Sunday, August 22

The South Point Casino is great for an overnight, because it’s south of the town and there’s no hassling with the strip. After an uncomfortable night, we are in the car at 7 a.m. heading home at 78 MPH down I-15. About 295 miles Vegas to Topanga. Very glad to be home, off for the doctor and bonesetting tomorrow.

Total mileage: somewhere just under 2500, forgot to hit the trip meter at the beginning.
gigib is offline  
Old Sep 1st, 2010, 06:51 PM
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Bookmarking so I can come back and read the whole thing. Looking forward to it!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2010, 03:56 AM
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Sounds like a fantastic trip so far, hope the wrist heals quickly and doesn't interfere with the rest of the trip.

We stayed at the Recapture Lodge in Bluff too, because a Tony Hillerman novel said it was the place to gather in Bluff, a little tired, we'll try for Valley of the Gods B&B next time in the area.

Thanks for the report.
emalloy is offline  
Old Sep 2nd, 2010, 09:52 AM
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gigib, That was one trip that left quite a souvenir. Ouch! I enjoyed reading about your travels to the National Parks in the four corners area.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2010, 01:34 PM
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>>After a decent breakfast at the Days Inn, we are bound for Monument Valley through the Navajo reservation (The Rez, as the lady at the Bluff hotel called it. What do the people who live there call it?).
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Old Sep 2nd, 2010, 03:17 PM
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Great report and I hope your husband's wrist is healing. I love those kind of trips driving across roads in the middle of nowhere. You saw a lot in a week but it didn't seem too rushed. I've been to some of the areas you covered but not all so I am going to bookmark for a future trip.
paula1470 is offline  
Old Sep 3rd, 2010, 11:10 AM
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Thanks everyone for your nice comments. We have been to Zion several times and absolutely love it, getting to Moab is just a bit more work. That Middle of Nowhere feeling is just amazing, so much open unspoiled SPACE!

Elindilpickle, thanks for the info. I came across the word Dine somewhere on our trip, then looked it up at a hotel with WiFi. Which, by the way, was free and easily accessible at the Best Westerns, if a bit slow. I would have these curiosity attacks in the car, then make notes to look stuff up later.

Husband has 2 more weeks in a cast, then gets a wrist brace, hooray!
gigib is offline  
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