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Posts Tagged ‘Moab’


Buoyed by two good night’s sleep in Moab we were refreshed for what would be one of the longest road journeys – around 290 miles – of the entire trip before we reached our next overnight stop of Durango, Colorado. Two conscious decisions led to this – firstly, to make a detour to visit the Four Corners Monument and secondly, to ignore our trusty route planner’s recommendation to travel as far south on US-191 to Bluff before heading east, and cut off earlier at Monticello to pick up the 491. We were to make yet another detour, of which more later.

Having filled up at the Maverik gas station (this chain was a regular source of cheap fuel throughout the trip), we set off in the company of the customary blue sky (the rain on our journey into Moab two days previously had been a momentary aberration) and soon found ourselves alone on the road.

After 53 miles we took US-491 at Monticello as the Eagles sang on the in-car CD player “put me on a highway, show me the sign”. Well, the next sign we saw was one welcoming us to “Colorful Colorado”.

We had left, at least for now, the dramatic sandstone formations that had dominated the landscape for much of the past week. The area was a blend of flat pastureland and forest, dotted with the occasional homestead and small ranch, outside which horses and cattle grazed.

The Eagles were soon usurped by Kiss Country Radio 97.9 FM (“Keeping Cortez, Farmington and Durango country)”, which was to be our companion for the remainder of the day.

Dove Creek was the first town of any substance in Colorado with its business park and small airport. Further evidence of the growing number of grazing livestock was an advertisement on the radio for feed grains.

We were amused by a sign that announced that the Colorado Welcome Center was another 34 miles, an indication of the vast scale of this nation that you had to drive 50 miles before you could be officially welcomed to the state!

The San Juan National Forest which was to follow us all the way to Durango began to assume greater prominence as we passed the settlements of Cahone, Pleasant View, Yellow Jacket, Lewis and Arriola.

At Cortez, the largest town on today’s journey but one beset by roadworks, we eschewed the signs for Durango and branched south towards the Four Corners Monument.

Shortly afterwards, a low mountains range denoted that we were entering the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. Once notable hunters, the Utes had been split up and relocated to poorer land by the white settlers’ westward expansion.

However, mineral leases and tourism had enabled them to build an impressive casino, hotel and resort (pictured above) where we halted briefly for free if indigestible coffee, restrooms and a futile flutter on the penny slots.

We managed to miss the turning for the Four Corners initially, but recovered the route within three miles. Had we taken the right road we would have avoided almost getting crushed by an immense truck turning left into the road at which junction we were sitting. The driver, equipped with almost obligatory drooping moustache and cowboy hat (not unlike the Dennis Hopper character in Easy Rider), did not seem amused, but his cargo of blindfolded horses appeared less concerned.

Crossing the San Juan River we arrived at the Four Corners Monument, the only spot in the U.S. where four states (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) meet at a single point. Whilst that might sound glamorous, the reality is less so – it is a barren, hot (77 degrees) and dusty place, given over to the presence on all four sides of the ubiquitous Indian gift stalls (we were back in the Navajo Nation at this point).

That said, in addition to doing the tourist thing and having our photos taken spanning all four states (I was surprised we were not charged for the privilege), we picked up some lovely t-shirts.

So pleased with our purchases were we that we then contrived to leave them behind in our motel room in Durango the next morning. Happily, thanks to the kindness of the proprietor and a payment of £25 to UPS, I can now report we have just taken custody of them again at home.

We had to retrace our “steps” (around 30 miles) to traffic-ridden Cortez before continuing our journey to Durango on US-160 East. But lunch now beckoned. My vegetarian past cruelly cast aside, I had harboured a craving for a Wendy’s hamburger ever since our flight had touched down in Las Vegas eleven days before, and, as luck would have it, an outlet cuddled up to us just as we were pulling out of town.

I’m not sure this is what Jimmy Buffett had in mind when he sang Cheeseburger in Paradise but my double was scrumptious. Janet also enjoyed her crispy chicken sandwich. Our unfamiliarity with fast food burger joints was exposed, however, when we ordered two vanilla iced frosties, thinking they were coffees (a la frappuccinos), only to discover, not unpleasantly, that they were in fact milk shakes. And all for less than ten bucks.

With only 46 miles to Durango we decided to call in at Mesa Verde National Park en route. When we revamped our original itinerary to include the loop through New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Gallup), we had been required to drop Canyon de Chelly and Mesa Verde.

But it was not until now that we fully realised just how close it was to the road we were taking, and even though time would not allow us to explore it as fully as it deserved, it would be crazy not to spend a couple of hours there.

Mesa Verde (“green table” in Spanish), the only U.S. national park exclusively devoted to archaeological remains, was home to the Ancestral Puebloan people between 550 and 1300AD, at which stage they mysteriously abandoned the cliff dwellings that had been their home. Formerly nomadic, they had turned to hunting and lived in pithouses clustered into small villages usually built on mesa tops but sometimes in cliff recesses.

We can only speculate why they lived in these secluded alcoves. Perhaps it was for defence or it may have been because they provided better protection from the elements, or even for religious or psychological reasons.

Whatever the purpose, they are astonishing buildings, some of them remarkably well preserved.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t sufficient time to join one of the ranger-led tours into the best preserved cliff dwellings, but we did take the self-guided Mesa Top Loop Drive which afforded us some excellent views of both the internal layout of the pithouses and overlooks of some of the villages.

Leaving Mesa Verde we drove through the Mancos Valley with the San Juan Mountains overhead. Mancos proclaimed itself as “Where the West Still Lives”, a not unreasonable boast as the scenery was taking on a distinctly more cowboy country feel.  But this was clearly under some threat as a large picture of a cow was accompanied by the words “I’d rather be a cow than a condo”.

After checking in at the Econolodge motel in Durango we took the free trolley to the historic downtown for dinner at Tequila’s Family Restaurant, a beautiful tex-mex establishment with dazzling, colorful furnishings. My seafood enchiladas were the best I had ever tasted and the margaritas were delicious. And it was also inexpensive. The experience was topped off by our server, Hector, dashing back to our table before we left to thank us for his tip.

As the next day’s journey would be much shorter, we resolved to spend the next morning exploring downtown Durango before setting off for our next stop in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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The experience of staying in the Sleep Inn in Moab was enhanced still further with an excellent breakfast. We even managed to find the table with the TV remote control laid upon it, enabling me to swiftly change the channel from Fox News to CNN. Fortunately, nobody else noticed or, even with the presidential election a little over a month away, was interested.

Today we were making the last of our planned visits to national parks, namely Arches. The annual pass purchased at Zion had already proved a tremendous bargain. After the short drive from town we called in at the visitor center first to top up on water and seek advice on the trails.

The most recognisable of the park’s estimated 2,000 arches is the 45 by 33 feet  Delicate Arch (above), which features on many state products, including official vehicle license plates.

The walk is a three mile round trip with an overall elevation gain of 480 feet. After the first half-mile, a well-defined trail, it becomes increasingly strenuous with a steep section of exposed slickrock, which lives up to its name in damp weather (not a hazard we had to deal with). The hiker is dependent thereafter upon a series of rock cairns (several small rocks, sometimes precariously, placed on top of each other) and the advice of others returning from the summit to ensure they are on course.

The most precarious element of the trail, and the one that made me a little uneasy, is a 200 yard “narrow” ledge overlooking a sheer drop immediately before reaching the arch. Whilst I negotiated it comfortably enough, I felt it prudent that I should hand over photographic duties to Janet whilst we remained there. Unfortunately, it was a little hazy at this point, though by the time we had passed the end of the ledge on our descent, the sun had come out, causing Janet to bound back up the ledge to take more photos whilst I averted my eyes and settled my nerves with a peanut granola bar.

Having accomplished our first objective, we undertook a number of shorter and less demanding trails, principally the 300 foot Landscape Arch (1.6 miles) and the smaller Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch.

Although Delicate Arch was indeed impressive, we were a little underwhelmed at this point. But the longer we spent in the park the more it grew on us. We began to understand why many people refer to its otherworldly atmosphere and liken it to a moonscape.

At every turn there were bizarre groups of rocks thrusting from the desert landscape. As with Bryce Canyon in particular, it was tempting and entertaining to compare them with other living and inanimate things.

Many bore an uncanny resemblance to a gigantic male protuberance, though that might just be in the eye of this particular beholder. You may, of course, see nothing in such a salacious suggestion.

We encountered what, for us, were the most beautiful arches on the short (one mile) Windows loop. This is a collection of three arches – North Window, South Window and Turret – that face each other across the dusty scrub-like terrain.

We must have spent an hour clambering among the rocks and, where possible, dipping in and out of the arches, taking innumerable photographs (many of which, inevitably, included strangers doing the same).

But patience and perseverance paid off as the following picture illustrates.

This was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me – these stunning structures dwarfed the more celebrated Delicate and Landscape Arches in their emotional and aesthetic impact.

After dragging ourselves away from this fabulous playground, we moved across to Balanced Rock before leaving the park. This is one of the weirdest rock formations of all – fragile, funny and picturesque.

I have my own thoughts on what these resemble. What are yours?

Such was our fascination with this extraordinary place that we were forced to postpone our proposed afternoon trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. Nor had we had any lunch (there are no refreshment facilities in the park) and it was nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon!

We drove back into the centre of Moab and, after a brief exploration of the gift shops, parked ourselves outside the Peace Tree café, where our coffees were  supplemented by portions of pecan pie and chocolate brownie with ice cream that would hardly have looked out of place in the park we had just left (though I think the comparison ended there).

The day was rounded off  with a fine meal (shrimp pesto linguine for Janet and roast chicken with garlic red potatoes for me, accompanied by another white Zinfandel – oh yes, and two margaritas each) in the Moab Brewery. It had been our third visit in a little over 24 hours and we were sorry to leave it.

Once again, we had an excellent night’s sleep in The Sleep Inn. Must be something about the name or perhaps the exercise we had done – or more likely the margaritas.

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We knew that visiting the Arches National Park obliged us to return to Utah. But we were not concerned as we knew that Moab, our base for the next two nights, was more socially enlightened than the towns we had stayed in at the beginning of our trip. It even had its own brewery!

Humbling and inspiring though our excursion to Monument Valley had been, our stay in the area was not an unqualified success. Being able to check in at noon at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta did not prove as beneficial as we had first thought. Our room may have been spacious, comfortable and well furnished but it was next not only to the lifts but also the 24 hour (sic) laundry and ice vending machine. You should be able to glean from that what sort of night’s sleep we had, or rather didn’t have. It was unquestionably the most, and possibly only, noisy room in the entire hotel.

We had also been advised at check-in that we did not need to reserve a table for dinner as the restaurant would not be busy. As we were late back from Monument Valley, it was 9pm before we were ready to eat. As we approached the lectern the signs looked ominous – the foyer was full of glum, exasperated fellow residents sprawled on armchairs and sofas.

Sure enough, we were told we would have to wait an hour. With alternative dining options in the vicinity severely limited we had no choice but to sit it out. It was indeed around 10pm before we sat down to dinner, to be greeted with the news that half the menu was no longer available. Even the consolation of a “proper” drink was lost on us as the beverage menu was entirely non-alcoholic!

And then we couldn’t sleep.

It was a pity that our experience of the Hampton Inn was so negative as it was an attractive place with a fine Indian gift shop. At least my complaint about the room did induce an offer of 50% off the (pre-paid) cost of the room by the manager, though it would require us to contact Expedia ourselves to secure the discount (which reminds me).

Our journey north to Moab meant that we would be travelling initially on US-163, the road we had taken the previous afternoon through Monument Valley. This afforded us the opportunity to marvel once more at the landscape.

But not before visiting the Navajo Indian Center, a complex of hard standing stalls selling jewelery and sand art, just outside the entrance to the Tribal Park. Once again, the retailers were all very friendly and genuinely interested in the details of our trip.

It was difficult to prise ourselves away from the area as every few hundred yards of road opened up new perspectives and photo opportunities. As we passed the sporadic, sometimes derelict, gift stalls by the roadside, it was difficult not to wonder whether their business was suffering from the competition provided by the Navajo Indian Center.

Crossing into Utah we passed Halchita and Mexican Hat, where we swung right over the San Juan River. The landscape took on a generally flatter look and the familiar “big sky” that was such a feature of this trip returned.

We joined the US-191 near Bluff as the skies, for the first time in the eight days we had been in the country, began to threaten rain and the temperature gauge dropped below 60 degrees. Distant flashes of lightning followed.

We resisted the blandishments of Blanding, even though it claimed to be the “Base Camp to Adventure” and boasted both a dinosaur museum and a Fattboyz Grillin’ restaurant.

We had become accustomed to roadside signs warning us to beware of animals crossing, but the flashing lights proclaiming “Car Deer Hits: 197”, followed shortly afterwards by the sight of one freshly slain, brought home the danger more forcefully. Dead wildlife by the side of the road was as common a feature of this trip as burst truck tires.

As the rain finally arrived and the temperature fell below fifty (half of what it had been in Bryce Canyon a few days before), we had lunch in Subway at the Canyonland Store in Monticello, which announced itself as the “Home of the Hideout”.

With a little over fifty miles to go I considered a comment made by an English woman we had met in Zion. She had complained that the road from Monument Valley to Moab was “boring”. Well, this may not have been the most spectacular stretch of scenery on the trip, but boring it was not. The road itself may have been straight but there were still sporadic clusters of red rocks amid the desert, which became ever more prominent as we neared our resting place. And there was that “big sky” – how could one ever tire of that?

As we approached Moab and the sky cleared, one of the increasing number of signs extolling the comforts of its accommodation offer was one for the Moab Brewery, that oasis of sophistication in an otherwise dreary state. More surprisingly, it stated that kids were welcome, hopefully not a comment on the strength of the beer!

We were greeted warmly by the proprietor at the Sleep Inn, though how the conversation got round to his enthusiasm for the seventies British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, I cannot remember.

Unpacking was peremptory as we prepared to stake out the Moab Brewery and a restaurant for dinner that evening. The only drawback to an otherwise excellent hotel was that it was a mile away from the centre of town and that, with a four lane highway and intermittent paths on either side, walking was an extreme sport. But when you consider that Moab’s modern renaissance has been borne out of its status as a haven for mountain bikers, rock climbers, jeep junkies, raft riders and hummer hammerers, I should not have been all that surprised.

We negotiated the short distance to the thriving Moab Brewery premises, sat at the bar and ordered a Lizard Wheat Ale and Scorpion Pale Ale respectively before returning to the hotel to prepare for dinner.

We ate later at the Blu Pig – Brews, Blues & BBQ restaurant where I had catfish and Janet enjoyed a mighty plateful of spare ribs, and we drank a bottle of – whisper it – wine, Beringer’s White Zinfandel to be exact. We then took our lives in our hands by venturing along, and then across, the highway in the dark for another glass in the Moab Brewery before retiring for the night.

How unlike our evening experiences in Hurricane and Panguitch! OK, Utah isn’t so bad after all!

And we slept too – after all, it was The Sleep Inn.

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After a heartier breakfast in a more spacious Bear Bites room (and patio!) than its sister motel in Hurricane, Utah, we made the short drive from the Travelodge in Page, Arizona to Wahweap Marina for our Lake Powell boat cruise.

We succeeded in getting on a two and a half hour cruise that enabled us to have a leisurely lunch before taking up our Antelope Canyon tour in the afternoon.

With 1,960 miles of shoreline, longer than the entire west coast of the continental U.S., man-made Lake Powell, with its clear, blue water, red rock canyon walls and sandy beaches, welcomes nearly three million visitors per year.

It was already warm and sunny, if a little breezy when we took our seats on the top deck of the boat.

We had taken a similar cruise on Lake Mead, which is linked with the more celebrated Hoover Dam, the previous year, but enjoyed this tour more. The geology was more varied, and the descent into Antelope Canyon was spectacular. The final part of the tour took us in the direction of Glen Canyon Dam, the power from which serves 1.5 million people across five states.

We had a sandwich and coffee at the Marina before returning, briefly, to our motel to freshen up.  We then joined an excitable crowd at the Antelope Canyon Tours office for our 1.30pm tour.

The assembled throng was almost entirely Italian, a coach party of elderly tourists and half a dozen young couples. The former were accommodated first, and when our young Navajo driver / guide, Rosie, asked the rest of us to board her open-sided jeep for the journey to the canyon, there was an unbecoming scramble for seats, even though there were sufficient spaces (sixteen, eight on each side) available.

What followed was a jaw juddering, hair raising charge across desert and sand dunes to reach the opening to the canyon. Fortunately, we had neither had too much or too little lunch for the journey to discomfort us unduly.

What, however, added to the excitement, or alarm for those of a more sensitive disposition, was the fact that the 20 minute journey coincided with the first rain we had seen since we arrived in America.

We were drenched within minutes, and for a moment I was reminded of the eleven people who had been swept to their death in the canyon by a flash flood fifteen years before.

However, by the time we were helped, dazed, from the vehicle, the heat had dried our clothing completely and the threat of further rain had receded.

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon, which means that thousands of years of wind, water and sand have ripped a narrow crevice in the mesa (a raised, flat stretch of land). It is a quarter of a mile long and 130 feet deep. Access is restricted by the Navajo tribe and visitors must be accompanied by a licensed tour guide.

The array of colours and shafts of light from above make it a real challenge for amateur photographers to capture the glorious images that dazzle the naked eye. The combination of a new digital camera and a modest appreciation of the snapper’s art, did not augur well for us. However, Rosie not only set our camera for the best effect, and then reset it at the end, but also took several of the photos herself! There appeared no end to her talents.

Indeed, as the young Italian couples in our group neither seemed to possess much English, nor appeared altogether interested, she spent most of the time directing her commentary to Janet and I. And yes, she is responsible for the picture below.

Dinner was taken at Bonkers, the number one rated restaurant in Page according to TripAdvisor. In fact, we liked Page and could have stayed a week without having to eat at the same place twice. A far cry from our earlier experience in Utah!

But before anybody reading this thinks that I have treated that state unfairly, we had two more nights there later (in Moab) where we enjoyed excellent meals, washed down with fine wine and hand crafted, home brewed beer.

For now, we were looking forward to our trip to Monument Valley the next day, the most eagerly anticipated leg of our trip.   

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