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Posts Tagged ‘Monticello Utah’


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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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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