Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Four Corners Road Trip

This trip was a long time coming, though it felt like it happened overnight. On Wednesday I found out that a four day weekend might become a reality, so the planning began. Arches and Canyonlands National Parks were highest on the priority list, so I did an exhaustive search for any type of accommodation in the Moab area.  I may have chose the busiest travel weekend of the year as my search turned up nothing. No hotels, cabins, lodges, or campsites were available. I called the BLM field office and the gentleman told me my odds weren't very good as most established campsites had already begun to fill that week. This almost kept me from going, as an eight hour drive is a long way to go without a place to stay. I went for it anyways.

Friday morning I trained a few of my clients and left Phoenix around 8:00am. From there I made great timing heading up North past Flagstaff and across the Navajo Reservation. Traffic was pretty light and five hours later I crossed the border into Utah, making my first stop at the famous Monument Valley. These iconic formations are the backdrop to just about every Western print or movie and considered to be one of the most photographed places in the West. The crowds kept me from staying longer. That, and the eagerness to find a place to crash for the night near Moab made me keep rolling. I stopped at the visitor's center in Blanding looking for maps and some information about the area. The lady on staff was a tremendous help and guided me towards a nice campground in the La Sal mountains. She forgot to mention it was at 8,500ft and snow fell a couple times that evening. I didn't waste any time in the morning waking up to sub-freezing temps. I packed up quickly, blasted the heat in the car and drove to Arches National Park. 

Double O Arch
One hundred million years in the making, Arches has over 2,000 cataloged natural stone arches within a 75,000 acre park. There's no question why this place was designated as a national park. For the most part, the trails are pretty easy and offer so much to admire around every corner. I felt like a kid climbing around the boulders and checking out the view from either side, framing up different photo angles and sharing in the excitement with other visitors. It's amazing what the natural world can do to the human spirit.  I hiked three different trails, saw over 20 arches with my favorite being Double O (pictured below). Before leaving, I made the surprisingly steep 1.5-mile climb in a driving wind and rain to see Delicate Arch (above). Next to the buttes in Monument Valley, this has to be the most recognizable piece of landscape in the southwest, which the state of Utah proudly represents on their license plate. This may be one of the best parks for a day trip, especially for families. It's a short, scenic drive from Moab with plenty to see for everyone. 

Immediately following my visit to Arches, I drove out to Canyonlands National Park. I really didn't know what to expect. How could you possibly top the last one? How about converging two canyons, each having their own river, with about the same land mass as the Grand Canyon? Add that with unique geologic formations and an endless array of colors as far as the eye can see and you have Canyonlands. I'm really disappointed I didn't allow enough time to stay longer and explore the depths. The will certainly be a "next time."

Grand View Point Overlook - Canyonlands NP

Mesa Arch - Canyonlands NP

Spruce Tree House
 My lodging situation was a bit stressful, as most people know doing things last minute is really not my style. Primative camping during a storm was not my idea of a good time, so I searched for hotel rooms. The closest available site was two hours away in Cortez, CO. The drive wasn't appealing, but a comfortable bed sounded quite nice. Plus, that would put me just 10 miles outside of Mesa Verde National Park and closer to home whenever I decided to go back to Arizona. The rain continued through the night and into the next morning, so I knew my hiking and running with be at a minimum. I was fortunate enough to get out and snap a few photos of the "houses" throughout the park. Mesa Verde is home to numerous ancestral cliff dwellings dating back to AD 1200, most of which are still in tact. The architecture is amazing, the rooms seem to tell a story of how the Pueblo people lived hundreds of years ago. It's easy to see why they chose this area for protection against the elements, natural beauty and abundance of wildlife. I chose to do the self guided tours, simply based on the amount of time I had, and that they opened earlier. Some areas required a permit pass and are only accessible by guide. The national park service is making great efforts to protect this area and all of the ancient features in the park.

Four Corners Monument - Final stop on the trip.

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