Thursday, May 30, 2013

Abundant Campsites in the Abajo Mountains.

Four years ago hubby and I noticed a couple of signs indicating the locations of Indian ruins.  However, the roads leading to them were very unsuitable for a car; so we kept saying that we would make more of an effort once we got a Jeep or SUV.  Two years later we finally purchased a used SUV and made the trip back up North Creek Road (aka Abajo Mountain Loop Drive, Abajo Drive) to visit those elusive ruins.  The signs were no longer on the roadway; there are so many dirt roads leading to who knows where and we couldn't remember. 

Mule Deer
Yesterday I decided to take the ride back up the mountain road, and took my dog Jenna with me.  She had a great time running through grassy fields, and surprisingly didn't bark at, or chase, any of the mule deer in the area.  We investigated a few of the dirt roads by parking my car safely off the main road, and walking through to see what we could see.  I did see a male wild turkey, but they can walk faster than I thought; by the time I had the camera ready, it was already into the brush.

I didn't find any ruins, just too many dirt roads to investigate; however, there are so many places to go camping up there!  Many sites are visible from the roadway, many you have to drive a little way to.  There are two campgrounds up in the Abajos that are run by the Forestry service, Dalton Springs and Buckboard.  They can accommodate RVs, but have no hookups; there are toilets of a sort, and no electricity to charge your cellphones, Ipads or laptops.  The camp sites around the three lakes can accommodate small camping trailers, but no mansions on wheels.

Guess I better tell you how to get to a few places; at the corner of 200 South and Main Street in Monticello, Utah is the Welcome Center.  Take 200 South west and follow the street as it curves to the left; keep following this curvy street and you'll finally see the beginning of the road up into the mountains.  As you travel the road, be careful of the deer, they're out any time they want to be; you're the visitor, not them.  The first place I investigated was at the 4.5 mile mark, a dirt road off to the right side of the road; there are camp sites and the most beautiful view of the valley, Monticello and the road (Route 491) going off towards Colorado.  Small trailers can get through, huge motor homes...not; continue up the mountain road and you'll see the signs for Dalton Springs and Buckboard to accommodate those.

View of valley and the La Sal Mountains

You'll have to travel about 10 miles before you get to a fork in the road; to the left leads to Foy Lake, to the right leads to Harts Draw Road and finally to Route 211.  All along the way you'll see breath taking scenery of the mountains.

Now if you only travel about 9 miles, you're going to see a graded road on the right which leads to a 3-way crossroads after curving up the hill.  If you take the road going straight, that is Spring Creek Road; it is bumpy here and there, but a car can traverse the entire road until it comes out on Route 191 (8.5 mile drive).  All along the road are dirt roads where many camp sites are visible via the road, and some you have to drive a little way to.  The speed limit is marked as 35, but I did 20 with my car; many a squirrel and chipmunk crossing the road were thankful for that.

If you want to go directly onto Spring Creek Road from Route 191, there are no signs indicating it by name, no mile markers nearby, just a simple white marker with the number 103 on it.  I can tell you though that it is 4 miles north from the town of Monticello; and the photo gives you a hint of what the entrance looks like currently.  There are many ranches along Spring Creek Road, so if you see "Private Property" and/or "No Trespassing" signs, YES!  they are meant for you.

Basically, if you are looking to camp outdoors and leave all the modern conveniences of the world; the Abajo Mountains is your mecca.  It is peaceful, quiet, serene; you can commune with nature and forget about stresses in your life.  Just enjoy.

Mary Cokenour



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Arches National Park - Walking the Park Avenue Trail.

Nine miles north of Moab is the entrance to Arches National Park; traveling to the entrance booth is easy travel on a flat road, but entering the park itself is a whole other story.  After you visit or pass by the Visitors Center, you then begin your journey upward into the park itself.  No shoulder to pull off on, no guard rails; you just go higher and higher until you can stop at a small pull in point to look south over Moab, or further north on Route 191   Coming back down to exit will be just as fun as you practically hug the reddish walls of sandstone; no shoulder and no pull in points either.  The main road throughout Arches is paved, so don't be worried about a bumpy ride; just enjoy the sites and worry about your head spinning off your neck from trying to see them all at one time.

Park Avenue

The first major stop you're going to want to make is Park Avenue; it's a one mile trail behind Courthouse Towers.  There is an opening at the parking area there too, so you have a couple of hiking options: park at either parking area (Park Avenue or Courthouse Towers), walk the trail and have someone meet you at the other area with the vehicle, or just walk the one mile one way and back again.  It is a beautiful walk over sand and smooth stone; you'll be highly tempted to keep going off the trail to explore this and that.  Make sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, have plenty of water and watch out for mountain lions.  Yes, I said mountain lions; you're on their home turf.  There is a sign at the top of the stone stairs leading down to the canyon floor which will tell you the same information I just wrote.

The walls of Park Avenue are stunning; no photo can truly do them justice, you just have to experience it all up close and personal.   The right hand photo is of me walking the trail; my husband was at the top of the stone steps and not using a zoom setting on the camera.  The exhilaration and adrenaline rush I get from these hikes are indescribable.

Here's another example of why you need a whole day to devote to Arches National Park, and you still won't experience it all.  This walk over the Park Avenue canyon floor will get you so pumped up with excitement, you'll want to do it again!  Then again, getting back into your vehicle at the Park Avenue lot means you get to see what's waiting around the corner.

Mary Cokenour

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Arches National Park - Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch.

In six years, I've been to Arches National Park at least a dozen times and still haven't seen it all.  Of all the national parks in the Southeastern corner of Utah, this is by far the largest and most scenic.  I tell all first time visitors to the area that Arches is a must and requires a whole day.  Seriously, you could spend a week here to attempt to see every aspect of the park; there is so much to see, hike up to, touch and ponder.

My first visit to Arches was in 2006, and since we were only staying a week in the area we stuck to driving the main paved road and the bare minimum of stopping and hiking.  Since then the park has opened up more parking areas, graded more roads and made many of the formations more accessible.  When we visited in 2008, even though we were here for two weeks, we concentrated on only a few areas of the park: Balanced Rock, Delicate Arch and the Devil's Garden.  This is essentially part one of the second visit; Devil's Garden is so extensive that it needs its own post; and we still didn't see all of it yet!

Balanced Rock
Side View
 Balanced Rock is about nine miles from the start of your trek on the paved road throughout Arches.  The entire formation is 128 feet, but the rock of Entrada sandstone is only 55 feet of it.  At one time you could only see the front of Balanced Rock from the small parking lot, or hike around it over the rock and sand to see the sides and back.  Now there is a pathway that enables anyone to go entirely around the formation.    Carved by the elements, Balanced Rock sits upon stones that could crumble at any time, or stay upright for centuries more.
Rear View

Now something you should stop and take notice of is the infinite landscapes of Arches National Park; the photo heading this travel blog was taken in the park.  Whether it is the La Sal Mountains, another set of formations or just to infinity and beyond; the desire to start hiking is overwhelming.  These two photos are examples of what I mean, and as I write more and more about Arches, I'll include other landscape photos.

On to Delicate Arch; now there is a sort of funny story attached to why we never actually made it to Delicate Arch itself, only close enough to take a few decent shots.  Before making the hike upward, Roy wanted to smoke a cigarette, stupid, I know; well I wasn't waiting for his cigarette, so started out ahead of him.  I did tell him to grab the water bottles, since I was carrying the camera equipment.  3/4s of the way up he finally caught up with me and I was feeling thirsty, so asked for a  bottle of water, to which he replied, "Don't you have them?"  After a few choices words out of my mouth, I needed to make a decision; continue upward and hope I wouldn't become too dehydrated, or take a couple of photos and go back downward to the car...and water.  I chose the latter as being dehydrated up on the hilltop wouldn't have been a smart decision on any one's part.  I did, however, buy a small backpack when I got home; room enough for two bottles of water, a camera, snack bars and wallet.  Not taking anymore chances, and the lesson learned is: smoking depletes brain function.

Once you park in the small parking area, you'll see the trailhead off to the far right.  The paved area of the walkway only goes to the base of the hill, then it's upward the rest of the way over sandstone, slickrock and sand.  The entire trail is 1.5 miles one way, so that's three miles round trip with awesome scenery all around you.  Before I forget, there are petroglyphs located at Wolfe Ranch which has its entrance near the Delicate Arch parking area.  The road was closed the day we were there due to flash floods, so didn't get a chance to see them.

Delicate Arch is the most visited and photographed arch in the park.  It's featured on Utah license plates (tags), on a postage stamp in 1996, and in 2002 a runner went through the arch with the Winter Olympic torch.  It is also naturally carved from Entrada sandstone; oh, and in the summer months birds nest on the top, so you might want to watch for any falling "gifts".

Delicate Arch

That finishes the first part of all my visits to Arches National Park.  No matter how long you stay in the Moab area, make sure to visit this park; it's a must see!

Mary Cokenour

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Castle Valley and its Towers.

In this post I'm going to come forward in time, but travel backwards down Route 128; or forwards depending on whether you came from Interstate 70 or not.  Confused?  Depending on which internet mapping system you use, or paper maps, getting to Moab from Interstate 70 can be done in two ways.  First there is the all highway quick way: Interstate 70 to the Crescent Junction (Route 191) exit straight down into Moab; the closer you get to Moab, the more scenic the landscape.  The second way is to take Interstate 70 to the Cisco (Route 128) exit which will weave you along the Colorado River, through Castle Valley, past La Sal Loop Road and eventually to Route 191 and Moab itself.  Roy and I have done both, and the second way is the one we tell new visitors to the area; it is not only more scenic, it will totally blow your mind!

When we first traveled the route from the Cisco exit, we came upon the sign that lead to Fisher Towers (about 25 miles from Route 191 and Moab).  Unfortunately our car could not traverse the ungraded rock and dirt road, so while we saw the Towers from a distance, we could not see The Corkscrew formation.  However that has changed; Grand County has been working on the roads to make them more accessible to all types of vehicles, not just 4 wheel drive.  The landscape is not being ruined with concrete and paved roads, but with highly graded dirt roads that, while bumpy if in a car, still give more visitors access to sites. 

Ok, here comes the plug; this poor travel blogger only has a car, so cannot go gallivanting to sites until hubby has days off from work; he has the one SUV we own.  So, if any outfitters or travel businesses would love to provide me with an SUV or Jeep; put all the logos you want on it for advertising, and I can go practically anywhere to keep this travel blog full of photos and information.  Consider it a very, very Win-Win partnership.  Now back to our featured presentation...

As I mentioned, Fisher Towers is about 25 miles from Route 191 in Moab; Cutler and Moenkopi sandstone, caked in our ever present red mud.  It almost feels as if you are looking at the landscape of Mars.  Climbers love these towers, and they've been featured in films (Austin Powers in Goldmember) and commercials.  Coming in from the Cisco exit, the valley opens up to reveal the Towers, and your imagination immediately thinks "castle".  Remember, we are in Castle Valley, and the formations are magical.

Fisher Towers

From the Fisher Towers area, Castleton Tower and The Rectory can be seen six miles in the distance.

After having a full day out along Route 128, traveling back towards Moab for a highly deserved good meal was number one on the mind.  Getting home and sleeping as soundly as the stone formations we had experienced...priceless.

Mary Cokenour

Friday, May 24, 2013

Arches Between Moab and Monticello

Even though my husband had lived in Moab a good deal of his young life; traveling around the surrounding areas was not on his to-do list. When he brought me to visit Utah in 2006, I told him to now look at it through my eyes; he surely got a whole new perspective on it. We only had one week to stay out here, so had to make the most of everyday. One of those days meant a trip down to New Mexico to visit one of his stepmothers (the plural is a story I'm not ever getting into).

Anyway, as we traveled past the junction for La Sal, I noticed two signs: Looking Glass Road and Looking Glass Arch; curious, but we didn't have time to investigate. As we traveled further, we rounded this one bend when I yelled out, "Honey, look at the arch!" There was a pull in point on both sides of the road and I made him stop so I could take a photo.

Wilson's Arch

This is Wilson's Arch, named for pioneer Joe Wilson who had a cabin in Dry Valley.  Dry Valley is also where Marie Ogden started her religious cult, Home of Truth, back in the 1930s.  It's a ghost town now, but I'm saving all that for another post, with photos of course.  Wilson's Arch is located on Route 191, 24 miles South of Moab; and while there is no carved stairway to walk up to the top, hundreds of people climb up with no problem every year. 

Next to and across from Wilson's Arch are some Adobe homes for rent or sale; on the southern side, about a mile past the arch, you'll see a gravel road that leads to an old paved road.  That is Old Highway 191 which can still be traveled all the way behind some of those large formations you see on the current Route 191.  It will eventually come out on Route 191, directly across from Steen Road which is an OHV road (another post for later on some time).  The old highway is rutted in many places and then becomes dirt as you head on further behind those sandstone formations; taking a car on this road is NOT a good idea, only 4 wheel drive.

Back to Looking Glass Arch; it wasn't until 2010 that curiosity overcame us and we finally made that turn onto the graded gravel and dirt road.  Cars will do alright, but it will be a very bumpy two mile ride to the site of the arch.  This is also range land, so the cattle have right of way.

Looking Glass Arch

The climb up to the Arch is steep over sandstone and slickrock, but the view of the valley is breath taking.  Be very careful while standing inside the arch, the backside is a sheer drop off.  By the way, Looking Glass Road is also CR131 which will lead to CR 133 and the Needles Overlook; you can photograph The Needles, but you won't actually be inside Canyonlands National Park.

There are also some abandoned "homes" that were built inside some of the sandstone formations you will pass by.  Rumor has it that a polygamist group lived, or still lives, out on that land; but no sign of them has been reported, only rumor.  As with traveling anywhere, use common sense and caution; make sure your fuel tank is always full before going to a destination, and bring an extra five gallon tank along just to be on the safer side.   DON'T FORGET WATER!!! for you and your vehicle.  None of the National parks have gas station/convenience stores within them; you especially won't find one in the middle of no-man's land either.

Remember I had mentioned there were two signs; the one for Looking Glass Arch has been removed.  Not sure why, but the road, and the arch, are still accessible to visitors.

Between traveling to and from both arches, climbing them and taking a detour road here or there; this is basically an entire day of enjoyment.  Have fun; I know we had tons.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Along the Colorado River to La Sal Loop Road.

Jumping back in time once again; and feeling very much like a companion of Doctor Who's.  My first full day in Moab, Roy decided to introduce me to the Colorado River as it runs parallel to Route 128.  This first trip along the route only took us as far as La Sal Loop Road, but if you go along you'll eventually see the ghost town of Cisco which was a main water stop for the steam locomotives of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad.  Route 128 continues on to Interstate 70, so you can take that West towards Moab again; stopping at Thompson Springs is a must if you're interested in ghost towns and petroglyphs, or head on East to Colorado.

Now when you first turn onto Route 128, there is a small pull in area that has a little pipe sticking out of the wall and water runs from it.  This is called "Matrimony Springs" and the legend is that if you drink the water from the spring, you'll come back to Moab, get married and live out your days there.  Roy and I drank from the spring in October 2008, moved to the area in 2009, and were officially married in October 2010 in Moab and by the Mayor, David Sakrison.  Coincidence?  We don't believe in coincidence.

All along the route you will be surrounded by immense sandstone walls, boulder areas and sand; the desire to park your vehicle, get out and begin to explore will be strong, very strong.  The route is narrow and curvy, so park in the pull in, or parking areas along the roadway.

You'll be driving parallel along the Colorado River for most of the drive along Route 128; some of the viewpoint areas offer spectacular photo opportunities.  There are so many areas to pull over and have a picnic meal while watching the river flow with white tipped waves. While there are a few spots where you can actually go into the river for a dip, be careful as it runs fast and you don't want to be swept away.

Canyonlands at Night and Day
In Moab, there are many "adventure" businesses that offer rafting trips; Canyonlands at Night offers a dinner/boat trip along the river at night; cowboy style dinner and then a soothing ride along the river with music and history.  We took the Canyonlands at Night trip on our 2006 visit, and I still get goosebumps remembering the experience; and they give you one heck of a dinner!  That was also my first experience seeing hummingbirds in flight; there were those red feeders that hold the honey water hanging around the outside dining area; the little birds zipped and zoomed around our heads and I laughed with childlike delight.  Good experience, really good experience.

The first real road you'll be able to turn onto is La Sal Loop Road which takes you up into the La Sal Mountains and through the Manti-La Sal National Forest; there is a 5 mile long side road which leads to Warner Lake and a campground.  This road is two laned, curvy and narrow; we didn't make it very far up before finding a turn around spot and retracing our steps. Why?  Well when you're on the passenger side, looking down 3,000 feet into a canyon, you do a lot of screaming as there is no shoulder.  My mother-in-law tells me that no one has ever driven off the edge of the roadway into the canyon.  However, Roy and I are known for doing a lot of things for the first time together, so we didn't want to be the first ones over the edge.   We did try coming up the Loop Road from the Ken's Lake entrance, but same result...I screamed like there was no tomorrow.  I have been getting better though as we try out new adventures, so I plan on trying again this year to do the entire Loop.  No doubt I'll be writing about the experience.

Pickup Truck and Boat
Before you reach that point of the road leading up into the mountains, you'll pass some interesting formations.  Actually, the first ones you'll notice immediately as you make the turn onto the road from Route 128.  There is a pickup truck pulling a boat; not the actual vehicles, but sandstone formations that highly resemble them.

The Rectory (left), Castleton Tower (right)

Castleton Tower

Castleton Tower, a desert tower, has been used in many television commercials.  Remember the one where the man leaves a house, parachutes down a sandstone tower and walks to his SUV?   Right next to it is The Rectory, also known as The Priest and Nuns.

Before I forget, along Route 128 there is a giant Desert Rose that you can park near to explore further.  Naturally formed out of sandstone by the wind and rain, this Rose is about 5 feet high and six to seven feet wide.  I've only seen the smaller version in museums, but I keep looking anyway for one to add to my collection.

There's a little taste of Route 128, starting in Moab and heading towards Cisco.  I'm exhausted just remembering it; time for a coffee break.

Mary Cokenour