Southwest Winter Wander

Old Jan 25th, 2023, 12:58 PM
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Thanks, Mel, for another great trip report and fabulous photos. It brings back great memories of our travels in that area.
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Old Jan 25th, 2023, 01:57 PM
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Nelson - absolutely don't mind a brief aside - great memory that one!
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Old Jan 25th, 2023, 01:58 PM
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marg - I'm assuming less snowy memories?
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Old Jan 25th, 2023, 02:41 PM
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That's a lot of snow! Hope you had better luck with hikes in Bluff. It's really beautiful though!
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 05:44 AM
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Jan 22 –

The town of Bluff is nothing to get excited about, but our accommodation was wonderful – Bluff Dwellings (thanks for the recommendation Patty).

It was bitterly cold and windy as we followed 163 towards the junky little town of Mexican Hat, so named for a nearby rock formation that supposedly looks like a sombrero...evidently I lack imagination, as it looked like nothing of the sort to me.


Mexican Hat. Well, okay then...

We also visited Goosenecks State Park ($5), which appeared to be just a picnic area with an overlook that offered outstanding views; if there’s more here we missed it, but it was too cold and windy to spend much time exploring.



Goosenecks State Park

Then we drove the Moki Dugway, a scenic stretch of Highway 261, where the road is carved from a hillside. We just drove up and back, as we had plans to return tomorrow, when the weather was expected to be better.

The road signs at the top of Moki Dugway were covered in stickers...I'd also seen this on several Utah state signs and wondered what it was about, so looked into it. Evidently, it's a type of vandalism called slap tagging.



Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway

We tried to get to Valley of the Gods, which is accessible from two ends, but the Utah mud prevented us from doing so. Visiting in winter has its perks...and its drawbacks.

So it was back to Bluff where we picked up a pizza at the K&C store – a convenience store/curio shop/gas station – I didn’t have high hopes, but they make their pizzas to order and it was worlds better than the one we’d had at Bluff Dwellings the night before.

That evening was spent enjoying the beautiful surroundings and the hot tub, which we had entirely to ourselves.


The day had been bitterly cold. Our hopes of outdoor pursuits had been dashed. It was even too cold to enjoy the outdoor fire pits. Maybe tomorrow.



To be continued...


Last edited by Melnq8; Jan 26th, 2023 at 05:48 AM.
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 06:06 AM
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Jan 23 -

Not only did the weather not improve, we woke to snow (just yesterday a bundled up employee from the hotel seemed surprised we weren’t wearing winter hats as we soaked in the hot tub and told us it never snows here!).

Bill had been keeping an eye on the weather and there had been no mention of snow. In fact, we were counting on today’s weather to be nicer than yesterday’s.


Bluff Dwellings

Bluff Dwellings

We took 163 towards Mexican Hat, turned onto 261 and worked our way over the Moki Dugway again, this time covered in snow. We’d hoped that once at the top, the road would be plowed, but it wasn’t – it was several inches deep and there were a lot of drifts, slowing us down considerably. Our plan was to drive the ~130 mile Trail of the Ancients loop, but we hadn’t counted on having to break trail.


Moki Dugway

261

Many miles later we joined 95 to Natural Bridges National Monument and then 275 to the Visitor’s Center where we were told snow like this was not at all normal. We drove through the park, but unsurprisingly, the overlooks and trails were inaccessible. We appeared to be the only humans in the park.


Natural Bridges


Another storm was moving in, the ground was white, the sky was white and by the time we left the park it was snowing like crazy.

It was Snowmageddon Part 2 as we drove towards Blanding on 95, the views completely obscured, the snowplows going in the opposite direction again, two deer darting out in front of us.


Snowmageddon Part 2


We intersected 191 and drove into Blanding looking for a late lunch, but nothing appealed, so we turned around and drove back to Bluff, where we picked up yet another pizza at K&C (not many food options in these here parts) then returned to the hotel for another soak in the hot tub.

It had taken us just under four hours to drive the loop, yet we’d seen very little due to the weather.


Drive back to Bluff


We’d chosen Bluff as a base thinking it was close to several points of interest - and it is - sort of - one hour to Monument Valley, 1:40 to Canyonlands 1:07 to Natural Bridges, 1:22 to Bears Ears National Monument – but many of the roads to these places are inaccessible when wet – and Utah had been plenty wet the past few days.

In retrospect, Bluff is more of a pass-through-on-your-way-to-somewhere-else kind of place, but it also turned out to be a nice respite from the lousy weather we had on this trip, a nice place to just chill and unwind. There were very few other guests in the hotel and we’d had the hot tub entirely to ourselves for three nights in a row.

To be continued...
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 06:51 AM
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Jan 24 -

We left Bluff just after 9 am via 191 towards Blanding. We were surprised to see huge piles of snow lining the roads and in the parking lots as we drove through Monticello. We turned onto 491 and entered Colorado, then eventually turned onto 149 towards Naturita.

Soon we were easing our way down Slick Rock Hill, the serpentine road gradually descending into the canyon below, neither of us having ever been on this section of road before; I found it fascinating. There was less and less snow as we worked our way through Disappointment Valley.

It began to snow as we turned onto 145 and made our descent down Norwood Hill into gorgeous San Miguel Canyon. We joined 62 to Ridgway, crossed the Dallas Divide and eventually joined 550 towards Montrose.

After a quick lunch in Montrose we worked our way alongside the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which was now frozen and surrounded by snow, quite a difference from just two weeks ago.


Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Six and a half hours since leaving Bluff, we were pulling into chilly Gunnison (17 F), where we’d spend the night before driving home tomorrow.

To be continued…



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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 07:15 AM
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Jan 25 –

It was a bitter -10 F when we left Gunnison at 9 am, the deep snow glistening in the sunshine. We worked our way over Monarch Pass, which had more snow than two weeks prior, the road plowed and sanded.


Monarch Pass

Monarch Pass

Monarch Pass


After a pit stop at Poncha Springs Visitor’s Center we continued our drive on 285 north, the day beautiful and clear, 17 F.

We made a quick stop at Big Bend on the Arkansas River, one of my favorite photo stops. I love the drive between Salida and Buena Vista, especially on a clear winter day.


Big Bend

Big Bend


We eventually joined 24 east, the snow now just a light layer as we drove through South Park, a herd of cold antelope huddling in the distance.

We crossed Wilkerson Pass and were soon driving through Lake George, where I saw a grey fox romping amongst a group of horses.

Some three hours after leaving Gunnison, we were pulling into our steep, snow-covered driveway. The wind had followed us home, but 15 F felt almost balmy after frigid Gunnison.

---------------------------------
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 09:53 AM
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Forgot to mention - we'd driven 2,265 miles in 17 days.
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Old Jan 26th, 2023, 04:00 PM
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Glad you liked Bluff Dwellings. Good to know about the convenience store pizza. Sorry your luck with the weather didn't improve. I'd been wondering if you'd even be able to drive up the Moki Dugway with the snow.
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Old Jan 30th, 2023, 03:05 PM
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What a great itinerary and what a great selection of visual support. Edward Abbey would approve!
Folks who live where you two and Nelson and others here do, have proximity to such a range of wonderful travel destinations.
Its good to see that you take advantage of that.
Fave foto: your snowbound vehicle in Jacob Lake.

Suggested listening, one obvious the other less so:
1) Desert Solitaire by the above Edward Abbey. The version where he reads it aloud is perfect for those listening while driving around the SW.
2) 'Landscapes' is the best album by the musical duo Coyote Oldman. Pan pipes and flutes n' such. Evocative as hell. Satisfaction guaranteed.

I am done. the SW
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Old Jan 31st, 2023, 05:29 AM
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Patty - the conveneice store also makes sandwiches and (I think) burritoes to order.

Thanks for the reccos zebec. This trip was meant to be my last opportunity to hike (although somewhat foiled by the weather) prior to foot surgery, which I had two days after we got home. I'm out of comission for awhile now.
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Old Feb 1st, 2023, 01:41 PM
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Really enjoyed your trip report -- great photos and narrative! Thank you for sharing your journey.

Best to you on a speedy recovery from your foot surgery.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2023, 08:30 AM
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Wonderful blue sky photos - something I've missed this winter! What a fun adventure! I love driving trips but not when it's snowy and icy so I'm impressed that you made the trip. We want to take a quick trip to Monument Valley once we get a few nice days which have been scarce this year.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2023, 07:30 AM
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obxgirl and wtm003 - thanks for tagging along
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Old Feb 8th, 2023, 07:07 PM
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Wow!!! Your photos are gorgeous! We haven't been to Utah yet but we certainly hope to visit at a future date. But I would not be able to go in the winter. As I get older, I really dislike the cold weather. Snow is beautiful but I just don't like being outdoors in the winter any more. Certainly not hiking. I am very impressed with the amount of hiking you did. And surprised that so many of these hotels/motels are open at this time of year. You mentioned several times that you were the only ones in the hotels, and you didn't see any people in the parks.

I assume summer is too hot to visit the Utah national parks. Would spring and autumn be the best time to visit to escape the heat and before winter sets in?
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Old Feb 9th, 2023, 04:32 AM
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Would spring and autumn be the best time to visit to escape the heat and before winter sets in?

I suspect that's when most people go, but for us, it's just too busy. We went one year in early May and didn't care for the number of people, hence our winter visits. We'd rather take our chances with the winter weather than deal with the crowds.

Last edited by Melnq8; Feb 9th, 2023 at 04:37 AM.
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Old Feb 9th, 2023, 01:27 PM
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Wonderful, informative report with your always beautiful photos. It must be surreal to be able to experience these places and be totally alone. We've been several times in the fall, but of course, the rest of the country joined us to see the bright, fluttering aspens and need I mention still hot in the early fall.

Being a flatlander from New Jersey we backed out of driving Moki Dugway and you did it both ways with snow. Says something about a Colorado girl!

Hope you have a speedy recovery from your foot surgery. The times I've had foot surgery, I could barely walk before them so am wondering how you were able to do all of this great hiking without pain.

As always will look forward to your next trip report which will be to ????
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Old Feb 9th, 2023, 02:55 PM
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KarenWoo,
October is a nice month, maybe after Utah schools fall recess is over (usually middle of October).
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Old Feb 9th, 2023, 04:01 PM
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Clousie - Thank you for your kind words. Moki Dugway was much tamer than I expected, but then again, as you said, we're from CO...and have a lot of experience on the endless narrow and winding alpine roads of Switzerland, many with harrowing drop offs. We leave that driving to the incredibly skilled Swiss though.

As for the next trip...undecided. I was hoping for Italy and Austria in April, but not sure the foot will be up to it.
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