Friday, August 30, 2013

First Time in Monument Valley was a Bust...a Busted Tire That is.

Recently, Roy and I were very fortunate to be able to go on a guided tour of Monument Valley, but that wasn't our first time there.  Well, lets say it wasn't our first time there, but it was the first time we got to see a major part of it.  Alright, lets go back in time to 2009 and the decision to finally get to the Valley.  Then, we only had passenger cars, so decided to take Roy's Grand Am; I had a small digital camera with only 7 pixels, so many of the photos were not the greatest. 

"The Birthday Cake"
Going past the town of Bluff, you have to make sure to pay attention to the road signs. There is a point where Route 191 splits off to the southeast, and you want to continue your travels on Route 163 which goes directly to Monument Valley. The landscape along the twisty road is amazing and eventually you will see a little sign that indicates the entrance to Valley of the Gods. This is a gravel road, so not having a 4 wheel drive vehicle at the time put this on our "to-do" list. Another road recently put on our "to-do" list, and is before you reach Mexican Hat, is Route 261; Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park and the 3 miles of switchbacks called the "Moki Dugway" eventually end you up at Route 95 and near Natural Bridges National Monument.

Digressing here; you know you're getting near to the little town of Mexican Hat when you see, well what else, the Mexican Hat formation.   There is a pull in spot along Route 163 for photos, or you can travel the gravel road that goes directly to the formation itself.  The town of Mexican Hat is also your last rest stop/gas up the vehicle place before you reach Monument Valley.

After passing Mexican Hat, the landscape takes on a more intense look; walls of rock with "waves" or "goosenecks" carved by wind and rain; formations large and small; and then in the distance you begin to see the outskirts of the Valley.  Your heart may skip a beat or two in excitement and anticipation.

Warning!  Drivers will become overwhelmed by the sight of Monument Valley; all common sense and knowledge about the rules of the road will go completely out of their heads.  Keep a distance from vehicles as they will make a sudden stop directly on the road or pull off with screeching tires onto gravel lined, unlevel viewpoints.  Passengers with cameras are likely to walk onto the road without a single glance in either direction for moving vehicles.  Consider yourself warned.

I will admit that we were one of those drivers who suddenly pulled onto one of those gravel lined viewpoints and I bet that is how we got our busted tire....but the story continues.

As you get closer to the Valley, the road still gives a twist here and there, but it is when you go over that last hump that the most glorious site fills your eyes.  It is that classic scene from movies, like "Forrest Gump", that most have seen and wished to see up close and personal...we got that chance.  The sight is simply amazing!

As you get closer, it just keeps getting better and better!


Eventually you will reach a crossroad, one way is the entrance to Monument Valley where you'll pay your fee ($5 per person), go to the Visitors' Center, check in at the View Hotel (if you're staying there), go on a self guided tour, or one of the guided tours.  Another way is towards Goulding's and I'll be writing about that at another time; but I highly recommend one of the guided tours they run...great experience!  Of course you can continue on straight along Route 163 into Arizona and wherever it is you're traveling onto.

Anyway, we paid our fee, parked at the Visitor's Center and looked over the Valley from the terrace.  Indescribably beautiful; again a classic photo scene...The Left and Right Mittens, and Merrick Butte.  No photo can do it complete justice, especially once you've seen them directly in front of you.

Left Mitten

Right Mitten

We were getting ready to do the self guided tour when we saw it; one of the car's tires had split, the rubber that is.  No way were we going to attempt the tour; there was no where to get a new tire, so the only option was to limp home and get it repaired in Monticello.  Talk about disappointment!

Then again, it was a blessing of sorts also.  The self guided tour is very short; if you want to get a more intense experience, then you have to go on one of the guided tours.  Basically, most of the roads are either private (yes, people do live in the Valley as they have for centuries), or only accessible via a guided tour.  Oh, the roads down there, yeah, about that; honestly, unless you are a complete maniac and truly hate your the guided tour.  First off, someone else is doing the driving for you; second, the Navajo guides are wonderful, and why not, it is their heritage they're telling you about.  You'll hear stories and information that no guide book has, related in proud voices.

This is not the last story about Monument Valley, you can bet good money on that.

Mary Cokenour

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Arches National Park - Devil's Garden Part One.

I've written up several posts regarding Arches National Park, and have saved the best for last - Devil's Garden. There is seven miles of trail within this one section of the park; one trail is sand and dirt, so easy for walking. The second trail is the primitive loop which takes travelers over slickrock, extremely thin ledges, climbing up and over sandstone fins and boulders, and is the most difficult of the two trails to maneuver.  This write up is about the first trail and from the over 200 photos taken in this part of Devil's Garden, it was very difficult picking out only a few to post.  Might as well get started with a map, so you can see the trails and all the arches in this area.


There are two options for getting to the Devil's Garden Trailhead; drive to the parking lot just in front of the area; or park at the Campground and walk the short desert trail (about 1 and 1/2 miles) to the parking lot area.  While Roy drove to the parking lot and waited for me, I got out at the campground area and walked the desert trail.  If you want a true appreciation of the desert, I highly recommend doing this; you get enthralled by the sight of it, the calming atmosphere, and even though I was carrying water with me, I kept forgetting to drink I said, enthralled.  At the trailhead entrance I watered up, got a fresh bottle out of the cooler and into the garden of the unholy one we went. 

Skyline Arch

Oh my, I almost forgot to tell you about Skyline Arch which is located before you reach the Devil's Garden campground area.  Funny thing was, while doing my research about Devil's Garden, I saw Skyline mentioned, but didn't remember seeing it.  However, going through my photos, well what do you know, I had one of it.

Devil's Garden is a maze of sandstone fins and walls, corridors you can barely squeeze through, others that come together at a dead end. Here and there in this garden, the limbs of lifeless trees twist into bizarre forms; yet plant life sprouts up from the sand and in between boulders. After the corridors, the trail suddenly opens up and you can see the vastness of the entire area; but you'll still get a neck ache from trying to see to the tops of those fins.

Devil's Garden Trail

Pine Tree Arch
At the bottom of the main trail, keep an eye out for the signs that will lead to side trails; these lead to various arches along the way.  The first two arches you'll see are Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch; Pine Tree Arch is ground level, so you'll be able to stand inside it (see photo).  The Pine Tree area is very shady and cool; a breeze seems to continually blow through the arch itself.   Make sure to walk through the arch and look at the view on the other side...stunning!

Tunnel Arch

Tunnel Arch is aptly named, and there seems to be a smaller version of it just off to the left; think of them as two slides, one for the adult giants and the smaller for their children.

Crystal Arch
Before you decide if you should try the Primitive Loop Trail or not, continue forward a bit and you'll see an arch.  It's on the northeast side of the current trail you're on, and you'll have to do a bit of looking and juggling position to truly see it.  This is Crystal Arch, and, for whatever reason, it is not listed on the map that you receive when you enter the park.  On the map I posted, I put an indication of approximately where it will be located; basically if you don't know to look for it, you won't see it.  Now you know.

If you're brave enough, you're starting off on the primitive trail; not only weren't we brave enough the day we were there, but we were very tired from doing the Delicate Arch walk.   Just another excuse to come back again; heck, I've only been to Arches National Park twelve times, why not a baker's dozen?

The paved road into Arches is the road you'll be taking out; as you leave Devil's Garden you'll come to a point where you can look into the distance and see the Windows Area, including Balanced Rock.

 At this time, there are delays on the road in the Devil's Garden area due to construction.  I see it this way, it's very much worth the wait, and just another excuse to pack a picnic meal.  Think Positive!!!

Mary Cokenour

Monday, August 12, 2013

Yes, We Did Make it to Hovenweep!

I'd written about Route 262 and how we'd somehow missed the turnoff for Hovenweep National Monument; well the second time was the charm, but we used the Colorado route instead.  Whether you are traveling north on Route 491 from Cortez, Colorado, or south from Monticello, Utah; the turnoff for Hovenweep is located nearby the little town of Pleasant View.  There is a rather large sign indicating which road (CR BB) to take, so even blinking, you cannot miss it.  This short road ends at the junction of Route 10 which you would follow southward to Hovenweep (the site shares the Utah/Colorado border); the entrance is on this road, and the Visitors Center is only a little ways back.  Easy peasy!

Roy and I went in July, and as much fun as we had there, we also suffered from the heat; we did bring bottled water with us, but it didn't seem to do much good.  First off, the dry heat warmed up our cold water quickly, so it didn't quench our thirst after awhile.  Hint: partially freeze bottles of water and carry in an insulted bag; as the ice melts, the water will stay cool.  At Hovenweep, there are very, very few places to rest in shade; I'm recommending cotton fabrics in light colors, and a white hat to keep out the sun; don't forget the sunscreen!  The entire loop walk (Rim Trail, Tower Point, Visitors Center to Stronghold House) is a little over two miles, but can be grueling if you're not properly prepared and you're out in the summer heat.  Let me tell you that as soon as we got back to the Visitors Center, I put my head inside one of the sinks in the Ladies restroom and ran cold water over it.  After getting home, I'd found I'd lost eight pounds, while Roy had lost why do men do that, it's so annoying.   Of course most of it was water lost from dehydration, so I essentially lost three pounds from the hike, Roy lost that is truly, truly annoying!

Hovenweep, meaning "deserted valley" in Ute/Paiute is a series of various ruins dating back to the 1200s A.D. with a small canyon lying down its middle; Little Ruin Canyon.  A steep trail can be followed down into and out of the canyon as part of the Rim Trail; or you can follow the trail till you get to this part, and then return the same way back to the Visitors Center. 

Stronghold House
Leaving the Visitors Center, you can either start with the steep trail that goes into Little Ruin Canyon, or walk the slickrock trail to Stronghold House.  Besides this ruin, it is a good vantage point to look over the canyon and see Round Tower, Rim Rock House, Eroded Boulder House and the Twin Towers.  Consider this encouragement to keep hiking to get up close and personal with these ruins.

The next ruin will be "Unit Type House" which contains a Kiva; across the canyon is a better view of Round Tower than there was at Stronghold House.

When you reach the tip of this part of the canyon, the trail will split to either the Tower Point trail, or you can stay on the Rim Trail.  Big hint here, you want to do the Tower Point trail; not just a stunning view, but a stunning view of Sleeping Ute Mountain as well.  There are two different legends about this mountain; the first and more spoken one is the sleeping form of the mountain is the first Ute chief, killed in a great battle, but who will awaken one day to lead his people (The Ute) once again.  The other, less mentioned, legend is that this is the sleeping form of a “Great Warrior God” who fell asleep while recovering from wounds received in a great battle with “the Evil Ones”.  Similar legends, but still wonderful stories to hear.  By the way, there is a ruin at the end of Tower Point; a semi-circular section of a tower.


Hovenweep Castle
Following the loop around Tower Point will bring you directly past Hovenweep Castle, as would the Rim Trail if you had stayed on it all along.  This is the largest of the preserved structures;  in the canyon below can be seen Square Tower; while across the other tip of the canyon is Hovenweep House.

Hovenweep House
Between Hovenweep House and Round Tower, there are excellent views of the canyon, but one thing you should take the time to do is listen.  As you stand at the edge of one of those canyon views, listen to the wind and listen for the voices.  They could be voices of other visitors to Hovenweep being carried along on the wind; or perhaps they could be voices of those ancient ones that have long passed on.  Who really knows, aye? 
Passing Round Tower, Rim Rock House and the Twin Towers, your journey is almost over; just past a little area shaded by one of the few trees at Hovenweep, the steep trail down into the canyon begins.  You're almost back to the Visitors Center and on your way to the next adventure, or back to your abode....or you could always turn around and do the Rim Trail all over again; it's only about a mile.
Whatever route you choose, make sure to enjoy the walk.
Mary Cokenour

Saturday, August 10, 2013

State Route 95 - Canyons, Hite and Hanksville

When we first moved to Utah in 2009, we made sure to take a road trip at least once a week; we were doing so much work on the "handyman special" home we had purchased and needed the break away.  We'd already been on State Route 95 to see two ruin area and Natural Bridges, now it was time to see what was along to its end at Hanksville.  As much as I would love to post a photo of every interesting site we saw, there would be too, too many; so I'm going to give you some basic shots to encourage your own adventurous spirit.  First stop after Natural Bridges National Monument is Fry Canyon...

Fry Canyon was established in 1955 when the mining boon was in full swing in that area. Besides housing, there was a lodge, general store, post office and even a small school for the miners' children. After mining became virtually done, Fry Canyon became a ghost town; there are a few people who still live there, but the buildings are private property. There is a rough road that goes past the "lodge" and leads to a slot canyons. There are some interesting formations in the canyon area; this photo is on Route 95 itself.

White Canyon stretches from Fry Canyon to Hite; Cheesebox Canyon is in this region also.  There is so much to see, and so many places to hike; our favorite is over a slickrock region.  While there we found dinosaur tracks and quartz crystals embedded into the stone.  The views are astounding, the silence is golden; it's a great place to lie down, watch the clouds (if any) and relax.  One shape you'll see in the distance is called "Jacob's Chair" and like the "Cheesebox", there are 4 wheel drive trails that can be driven out to it.  I also am posting a photo of a desert tower we saw while riding along Route 95, but I cannot find any reference to it; just one of those formations that is unnamed I guess.

Update January 28, 2016 - this desert tower is called "Needle" and located within Fry Canyon.

Jacob's Chair

At the Hite Overlook, you'll get to see a section of Lake Powell and the little town of Hite; there is an informational board there which gives you history of the area.  Now, in case you're wondering about mileage to this, that and the other...that is what a map is for.  Basically I don't truly know nor care, what I can tell you is that we did bring a picnic lunch which we enjoyed at the Hog Springs Rest Area; and stopped for milk shakes at Blondie's located in Hanksville.  To make the circle back to Monticello, we were away for about 12 hours and had the best time!!!  Photos of Hite Overlook and then the adventure continues....

While we were at Hite, we saw storm clouds starting to move in.  Getting to Hog Springs Rest Area was a great time to stop and take a late lunch break (we brought a picnic meal with us).  There are wooden tables and benches underneath wooden shelters; and while a thunderstorm opened up around us, we enjoyed our meal.  When the storm was over, we did a little exploring of North Wash Canyon and actually found a large section of a spiral shelled fossil lying in a river bed.  Pretty neat!


The sky began clearing up as we started on our way towards Hanksville; a small town with surprisingly many places to gas up or dine in.  Then again it's no wonder, since the next area you can do this in is several hours away.  At Hanksville, where State Route 95 ends, you can pick up Route 24; going north-east takes you past Goblin Valley State Park and eventually to Interstate 70; going  west is the Capitol Reef National Park.  Whichever way you're going, make sure to have a full tank of gas and bottled water...and stop at Blondie's for a meal if you didn't have a picnic; and most especially have one of their milk shakes.

That's it folks, I've completed the tour of State Route 95, beginning outside of Blanding and ending at Hanksville.  We did take Route 24 north-east and stopped at Goblin Valley...oh what fun that was!!!
Mary Cokenour