We had been wanting to visit the desert southwest for a long time. We kept talking about it, but never really got around to it... until this year: the euro was at its all-time high and everyone in the world seemed to hate the Americans. It sure seemed like a good time to stay in the country.
Saint George, UT 3:50 am - ZOMG - wake up for a 6:00 am flight out of San Jose. We arrive plenty early and board our "Bombardier" heading to Salt Lake, where we connect to the tiny propeller plane to Saint George. Saint George, she is very underwhelming! Hertz has no hybrid for us - we had requested one - but they give us a nice SUV with sirius radio (which turned out to be great given our route). Off to Zion NP... our National Park Pass gets it first use this year! The park is just amazing with gorgeous gigantic cliffs and great views! Though our first shuttle driver, Jim-the-Eeyore, regales us with stories of flash floods and killer mountain lions! Whatever!
We hike the Emerald Pools trail, catch the shuttle at its next stop and are off to Weeping Rock - sniff - and back on the shuttle to the end of the road. Another nice hike on the trail into the canyon with some folks from Michigan. The trail ends at the river, where one could cross the frigid water to the other side to take a peek at the narrows. Yeah, hm, thanx, we pass.
Beautiful Bryce Canyon Au revoir Zion. We head out towards Bryce Canyon NP. We have no hotel reservations and are hoping to find a hotel close to the park entrance. At this point Assana starts to experience - probably for the first time ever - the whole spontaneous thing! The road out is beautiful... sunset thru the clouds, winding rode thru the mountains with cosy tunnels from the '30s. But we see no hotels. It gets dark, no hotels or motels. We pass a few motels which have no vacancy. Hm. It starts to rain, and nothing. And we have no service. Finally, just after the Highway 12 turn off towards Bryce we stop at Harold's Place Inn. Oh my! A total dump! Let's just put it this way: we prefer not to shower so we won't have to use the towels!
Happy to be leaving Harold's, we head off to Bryce. Rain starts at day break and keeps at it... Bundled up we hike from Sunset Point thru Queen's Garden to Sunrise Point. It is like hiking inside a painting. Impossible to describe, and photos don't do it justice (well, maybe Stan's could, but definitely not our's! :) It gets colder and rainier and snowy as we drive towards Rainbow Canyon (10000'). By the time we get up there we have to rename it Rainsnow Canyon! We spent 30 seconds staring at what should be a canyon with about 20' of visibility. Off to Page...
Page Turns out Page is booked! All of the hotels in town. Go figure. We stay at Glen Canyon Resort - Utah or Arizona? We're not sure! - inside Glen Canyon NRA.
We are off to Antelope Slot Canyon and are very excited about it. We pay our parking entrance fee - you can't look at tribal land without having to pay a fee - and then the tour fee (which is several times more expensive than any National Park entrance) and are lucky to get a seat in the front of the truck with our guide. We learn all sorts of interesting tidbits about the canyon and its discovery: turns out that the canyon is on his great-grand mother's land, and a shephard accidentally discovered it about thirty years ago when he went in to herd his sheep out of it. And it is every bit as amazing as we had heard, but very frustrating because of the hordes of tourists who always seem to be in your shot.(Damn you, the lady with the blue rain coat!)
The Valley of Gods Antelope Slot Canyon, check! Off to Monument Valley NTP. The drive is easy and roads deserted, so we make really good time. We pay another indian tribal fee - this time basically to check out their crapshop - only to realize that the best of Monument Valley is the part that is visible form the road.
On our way to Bluff we detour thru Valley of the Gods. We see just one other car in this desolate 20 mile loop with amazing views and vistas of the bluffs, "chimneys", and the storm in the distance.
Bluff Bluff - this tiny little town - is also full! What's up with the no vacancy deal?! Geez people. We end up staying at a Kokopelli Inn: kind'a like a cleaner version of Motel 6. It is no Harold's, thank god, but the walls are so thin that we can see the light from the neighbor's bathroom shine onto our ceiling. Again, another learning experience for Assana!
We are so ahead of our schedule - yes, there's a schedule even in the most spontaneous trip - that we decide to make a detour to Natural Bridges NM. There are three bridges - we learn the difference between a natural bridge (over water) and an arch (over land) - and decide to hike to them. The second one promised petroglyphs! Exciting! But after a 500' decent at 8000' of elevation we are forced to rename it Petroglyph-My-Ass bridge: petroglyphs? no! But the third one is fabulous: It spans 180 feet and you can walk right under it. Dan takes a bjillon photos.
The Four Corners Good bye Natural Bridges. Off to the four corners. Assana gets pulled over by the highway patrol who comes up behind her like a bat out of hell. He's super-quizmo: Where are you from? Where are you coming from now? Where are you heading to next? What serius station are you listening to? etc., He tells us the Four Corners is boring and super-touristy and that we should skip it. We tell him we are super tourists and we have to go. He gives us some pointers on which roads to take, and at the end of it all, he turns to Dan and asks Dan if Assana - who is sitting right there - has had any tickets this trip! Dan says no, and he says "great!" and lets us go! Best Highway Patrol ever!
Four corners, yeah, the most anti-climatic corners ever! We pay our fee - more indian triable land - and take our photo standing on the corner, waste some money on t-shirts and crap, and are off to Durango, CO, where we [finally] have hotel reservations - yeay! - at the historic Strater Hotel were we will be staying for a few nights. (It is worth mentioning that Durango is also sold out! WTH?)
The Train To Silverton We decide we need a break from our National Parks and opted to go on the full-day Durango & Silverton narrow guage train ride. We have an interior seat, but since it seems that the woman behind us hasn't had a moment of silence since she could talk we decide to stand in the open car. The views are grand, and the fresh air felt nice. We chat with people from all over. Silverton is a small mining town at 9300'. The economy is now based on summer tourism and we are visiting at the end of the season: a lot of businesses are getting ready to button-up for the winter. The ride back is sooty and a bit cold - we are mostly in the shade - but this time we have seats, and the view is still worth it.
The Beaumont The road to Ouray must have been reviewed and rated by a bunch of chickens! In no way it is as dangerous as people make it out to be. It is a nice road with majestic views.
At Ouray, our hotel's front desk was closed. The nice folks in the next door store call the dude, and he tell us he'll be back in 45 minutes, after he's done with his lunch. It doesn't go well with us and we decide to stay elsewhere: fabulous and fully restored, the lovely Beaumont Hotel. We wrap up the day with a nice hike, followed by hot cocoa and later a nice dinner; we really enjoy Ouray.
Back To Utah Google maps says we have seven hours of driving ahead of us. After bagels and hot drinks we hit the road. Lot's of small towns and pretty roads, but definitely McCain/Palin country. Ick. Three hours later we are at the visitor's center at enormous Canyonlands NP. We only have one afternoon, so we don't do much hiking, but enjoy the vast vistas and overlooks of Islands in the Sky.
Luckily we are not staying in Moab - town of Moab is kind'a arm-pitty. Sorrel River Inn - a working horse ranch - is 17 miles away on highway 128 which meanders along The Colorado. The views out of our room are to die for: on the south we have fabulous chimneys, and on the north, the Colorado river and Arches NP! Its is the views and their Freté sheets and towels that make up for the crappy dinner service and lack of turndown!
Saved The Best For LastAhhh, fabulous Arches NP! So beautiful, red, and archy! We hike to Landscape and Double-O arches, and see lots of other equally nice arches on our way. We spend the rest of the day checking out the Windows section, the Balanced Rock, etc.
Arches was our favorite park.