Utah – The Land of Arches, Mesas and Buttes (+ Mormons)

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May 26th 2014
Published: May 26th 2014
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We arrive at the Moab Valley RV Resort at about mid-day. It’s a great site & the facilities are amazing. They cater for RVs, Cabins & Tents. There’s good Wi-Fi, a swimming pool (with many folk in swimwear having a great time), a hot tub & location – surrounded by red rock cliffs & snow covered mountains. Many families come here for a day or 2. Its 3 miles from Moab centre. We soon decide to stay an extra 2 nights to base ourselves here while we enjoy Arches NP, Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point State park – all in Utah.

We do some shopping for camping gear, RV gear and a dress for Cags (who’s fed up of wearing trousers all the time) followed by a trip to the local store with Fresh Blueberry ice cream. Unfortunately the RV hot water tank seems to be giving trouble and leaking when we put the hot water on so we’ll need to call Cruise America to see what they suggest.

We pop into the local Visitor Centre in Moab. It has good information – a normal experience in the US. The guy who sees us is very informative and makes some recommendations on what to see and what hikes we might like to do. Well done to the US Visitor Centres – amazing and very helpful resource and all free.

For dinner we try Zax’s Restaurant & Watering Hole recommended by a few locals. It’s eating out for a change. They do great pizza’s and also good burgers – and very nice Amber beer brewed locally, so happiness. We plan to have BBQ on the other nights. The BBQs are provided by the RV Park on the site along with a bench and seating and night lights. This seems to be standard in all good RV parks we find later.

Arches National Park

This NP has over 2,000 natural arches in the park created by wind & weather over thousands of years. The landscape is generally red rock formations sculptured by Nature or the hand of God – depending on your point of view. It’s pretty breath taking as we drive through the park.

Many films have been made here over the years and somehow we will not be able to see a Wild West movie in the same way again.

Some of the highlights we stop at and take loads of pictures of are :– Balanced Rock which is a huge red rock just about balancing on a large pillar way above the ground. There’s some interesting rock formations around and we do a short hike around the site taking in the view from different angles.

Next it’s Double Arch which is more sandstone and a ½ mile walk inland. Initially all we can see is one massive arch ahead till we get nearer and discover the second arch which connects onto the first. It’s really fantastic and as the sky is blue it brings the whole scene to life.

We drive further down the track to ‘The Windows Section’ which is one of the famous sites to see. Its 3 very large arches near each other. Two are virtually adjoining one another. When viewed from behind (by taking the primitive walk route) they look like a pair of very large spectacles in the rocks. This is created by the North Window and South Window. The La Sal range of mountains in the distance, covered with snow, add to the beauty of the spectacle. The other window is the Turret Arch which is impressive as well. People are able to walk into these arches which makes taking pictures without folk inside a challenge.

We drive to see the big one from a distance - Delicate Arch. To get up close and personal we have to do a slightly strenuous hike which C & M will do another day. But as its lunch time we figure we might be able to picnic in a location with a view. No such luck as there is no picnic spot around so we end up having lunch in the RV in the car park. Sexy or what!

Onto the Devil’s Garden Trailhead which is at the end of the paved road. It’s beautiful and the really big draw here is the amazing Landscape Arch which is a 1.5 miles round trip hike. It’s a 306 foot arch and a huge piece cracked off in 2009, since when visitors are no longer allowed onto it but the view point is pretty close.

On the way down and back to Moab we stop at points to view some of the ‘bit’ players in this massive and magnificent park. First is Skyline Arch, next the Fiery Furnace area where you can only enter with a Ranger on a daily organised tour (as the risk is you can get lost in the maze of rock formations), the Sand Dune Arch is huge set of rock formations with a few Arches thrown in for good measure. We also make note of some of the areas for revisiting such as the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint, The Park Avenue Viewpoint & Trailhead (towards the entrance).

After a long day’s viewing it seems like some Fresh Blueberry ice cream is in order. Next it’s back to the ranch for a BBQ but get distracted and leave it late to cook the pork steaks on and have to finish them off in the frying pan as the fire had gone pretty weak. Lesson learned.

The problem with the hot water tank in the RV is getting worse and we are told to go to Arches Auto Repair. They discover that there is a leak on the hot water tank which had been repaired but the weld has gone again causing our problem. However, they could not fix it. So they isolate the area so we can’t use the tank……… or so we thought. We get back to camp and find that the leak is worse even when the cold water is turned on. So it’s back to Arches auto repair & Brian (ex Scot) apologises as he forgot to turn off another tap. It’s now fixed but we only have a cold supply of water. None too pleased and as its Saturday we’ll have to wait till Monday for a decision on a repair or replacement.

It’s cold and overcast with a forecast of rain & thunderstorms. The big Car Festival for the weekend is in town with a host of different, colourful & quirky specialised cars on show. Unfortunately this year it looks like the gods were not on their side.

The mood in ‘El RV’ isn’t brilliant and speculations run riot re: what the options might be & what we could do instead etc. dumb or what?! Add to this the weather is miserable. It rains most of the day & this coupled with the RV problem makes for a stressful time as we can’t get anything done till Monday. The options are that we will need to drive to Grand Junction 120 miles away to get a repair done or to Salt Lake City 200 miles away (or even possibly Vegas!) for a new RV. Patience tested all around!

So when it eventually stops raining we go to see some vandalised but now restored Rock Art a mile away. Not bad but a shame that some dumb arse vandalised these in the first place. It’s American History whether they like it or not.

While we are shopping at the amazing City Market Supermarket, the young girl at the till offers us a discount card for the store, which also covers all its other stores in the US and various other shops for free. We immediately get $7 off the shopping. Later we find we are entitled to a special rate for gas - 3 cents off a gallon, and as we unknowingly accruing reward points we actually get 10 cents off a gallon. Wow – all for being nice English Tourists in Moab!!

Despite the weather forecast we end up with a sunny day on Sunday and decide to make the most of it so we do Arches again to be on the safe side – it’s nearby. The highlights of our second trip here include: - M & C do the 3 mile uphill hike to Delicate Arch while Pete does a shorter version. This is an awesome arched loop of rock on a precipice between a steep drop and a wind carved basin. The only difficulty is the number of other folk there; patience is a must for decent pics. On the way back we see a smaller window up on a ledge which gives a lovely view across to the Arch, and then we visit a small area of Rock Art on the way back which is not bad. We then go to the Garden of Eden area which is pretty spectacular. Not sure how we describe the formations other than to refer you to a photo we have taken. We stop at the Rock Pinnacles along the roadside where there are also some lovely spring flowers of all colours. C & P take a few pictures. Next it’s the Courthouse Towers Basin which is a spectacle of buttes and mesas; a sort of suggestion of Monument Valley. Next we take in the La Sal Mountain Viewpoint with it’s amazing panorama of this part of the Park. Finally we stop at Park Avenue & what a surprise we get as a small trail takes us into a beautiful amphitheatre of red rock formations. It’s breath taking. We take the trail and enjoy it. We have a picnic lunch at Park Avenue as it’s getting late and then finish off at about 3pm.

As we have time on our hands and the day is still sunny rather than waste it we take a trip suggested by P onto Scenic Route 128, which starts by the RV Park and goes on for 25 miles through an amazing valley along the river Colorado and then come to The Fisher Towers viewpoint. When we get there it’s definitely worth the trip. Many a Wild West Film was made here as well. We pass some interesting ranches en route and a local winery.

Then it’s back to town for some shopping, ice cream and to the RV Park for a BBQ for dinner to await what might happen next on Monday morning! (in the meantime we’ve also discovered that there isn’t a fuse in the CO tester so all of C’s daily testing has been a waste. Another thing to raise with CA).

After a frustrating 2 hours wait at the RV park we are told to go to Grand Junction 113 miles away in Colorado for a fix to the hot water tank. This is more challenging because of the high winds and the fact that they said we had to get there for 1pm and we only have about 2 hours to do this in an RV. M drives and has a fight with the RV & the cross winds. We get there to find that Humphrey’s the repair guys have moved but thankfully they have left their new address on the empty premises so the trusty ipad GPS to the rescue.

The guys at Humphrey’s are very good (though they say that they had told Cruise America to get us here after 1pm as the guys are at lunch! Great Customer Service CA & a letter of complaint about this and other niggles are on the way + a claim for compensation)

We go to Randys Diner for lunch to pass the time (about ½ mile away). Nice Blueberry Pancakes; awesome Biscuit & Gravy Supreme (a sort of eggs benedict with biscuits and gravy). Pete had a cheese omelette with Texas toast - whatever that is. After another hours wait Dave has changed the tank and we are good to go. C drives back to the junction with the 128 – Scenic Highway as we hope this will reduce the risks of the high cross winds and get us back to Moab in one piece.

We get back in to Moab just after 7pm and feeling we deserve a beer or 2 head to the Moab Brewery – a local micobrewery that also does food. It’s packed so we get a seat at the bar and enjoy some local brews. The menu doesn’t quite do it for us so we head back to Zax for another beer and dinner - pizza’s (good) and a Zax burger (slightly disappointing this time).

Then back to the ‘ranch’, test the hot water – it’s all good, and we look forward to getting on with our trip and no further problems fingers crossed. We all have a sound night’s sleep after a pretty hectic day – obviously helped by the beers.

M soon decides that the trip is not quite 3 men in a boat but him watching episodes of Friends and Big bang Theory in tandem with C being Monica with cooking and obsessing about cleaning up and Pete being Sheldon. Happy Days!!

Dead Horse Canyon State Park

Next morning it’s nice and sunny, though the wind made it feel a lot cooler. We drive off to our first stop - Dead Horse Point State Park ($10 entry per vehicle as it’s not covered by the National Park pass). It’s been recommended by the guy in the Moab Visitor Centre. Although we had seen some pictures of the main site what we find is much better than expected. All the promo stuff just shows the view of the goose neck from the canyon above, but there are several walks along the canyon edge which give great views. We do a 2 mile stretch while Pete opts to drive to the end point. Along the way you see awesome views of the Colorado, backed by snow-capped mountains, scenic buttes and mesas and some sparkling blue man made lakes. They’re actually salt lakes drying salt for fertiliser and the blue is a dye but it adds an interesting contrast.


Next we head to Canyonlands NP and the Island in the Sky section of the Park. Apart from this it has 2 other sections: - the Maze is inaccessible and the Needles is best for camping & 4X4 drives (from the pictures we weren’t sure it was worth driving 130+ miles for). At the Visitor centre we see a 15 mins video about the Park – its geography, history and eco systems, which is very informative & a must see from our perspective.

Then we head into the Park for a Picnic lunch about a mile from the Grand River View Point Overlook (GRVPO). They have great facilities here – lots of picnic tables and BBQ rigs set along the canyon edge giving awesome views. It’s really cold when the breeze blows in though! GRVPO itself was pretty disappointing – it is supposed to be where you can see the confluence of the 2 rivers – the Colorado and the Green but they seemed miles away and deep in canyons where you could hardly see them. The walk (2 miles return) to the viewpoint was good though with some nice viewpoints along the way. We could see the Needles area of the Park in the distance.

Green River Overlook at nearly 6000 feet above sea level is much better with great views. But we save the best till last - Mesa Arch. This is a natural bridge caused by water erosion – this whole area used to be covered by an ocean amazingly, and through the arch you get views of Buck Canyon and the snow-capped hills beyond. It’s absolutely awesome scenery (and we’re in luck – the coach tour group leave just as we arrive!).

As we’re off to Monument Valley for 3 nights and won’t have access to many shops or eateries we head to City Market again to stock up, then head back for a BBQ dinner and some final bookings/payments while we have good internet access.

Monument Valley (Arizona), though we stay at Gouldings in Utah!!

We drive to Gouldings Resort on the 191 from Moab, we see our first real live working cowboys on horses (dressed in full cowboy gear) and quite a few places along the way (cafes, petrol stops, small businesses etc.) looked like they would be quite at home being on Route 66. Most of the settlements we drive through are really small by US standards (almost hamlets or villages). We go through the land of the Ute Mountain tribes (Utah was named after the Ute Indians).

We stop in Bluff, purely by chance as we fancy a coffee, at the loveliest coffee shop one could hope to find. It’s called the Comb Ridge Coffee shop and Art Gallery and was designed beautifully, and had an old beat up Truck out in front and a totem pole of prayer flags in the garden. Just behind it was a pretty amazing looking environmentally friendly designed house on 3 levels – all circular with windows all around.

M had a short Face Time chat with Sarah on holiday which was great as he had been a bit concerned about her. She’s off to Corsica at the weekend with Simon & is contemplating moving to Winchester to live with him in Sept. Clearly this brings new opportunities and challenges for her.

Shortly after Bluff we get onto the 163 and it’s a sort of scenic by way to Monument Valley. The landscape changes and builds up with the red rock surrounding hills into The Valley of the Gods which wets the appetite for what is still to come, till about 7 miles out MV appears on the horizon and cars start pulling over where they can to take pictures. This is where the iconic picture of the long road going into the valley is taken from. Forrest Gump ran and ran for miles & years in the movie. It’s quite spectacular. There’s no other way to describe it.

We get to Gouldings RV Park at about lunch time (which is in Utah, while the most of MV is in Arizona. There is also a time difference of an hour between the states but in MV this is ignored). It’s about $60 per night for the site. Unfortunately sand storms start up (normal afternoon event we understand) and the breeze is cool. It’s a picnic in the RV to avoid the red sand storms.

Later we drive to the Tribal Park Visitor centre – it costs $20 for a vehicle for 4 days entry. The National Parks Pass is not accepted here. The place has had a big revamp since we were here last about 10 years ago for a very brief visit (literally an hour as we had a tire leaking air and we had a long way to drive back.) This time it’s - view at leisure, but the cloud cover over the sight had changed to pretty grey. No worries as we are here for 3 days and the weather forecast suggest better and warmer weather so we will get our pictures in the sun sometime. It’s still pretty special.

The Centre has a handcraft & jewellery section of Navajo (now referred to as Dine) work. The Jewellery seems quite expensive in our view for what it is. However, tourism is how they survive these days. There’s also a restaurant with some interesting dishes which we decide to try another day and a Museum of Navajo history and culture with a special section on how the Navajo Code Talker (guys in the Marines that spoke Navajo) helped win the war in the Pacific using Navajo language to communicate messages that the enemy couldn’t understand or break the code. They were also used sparingly in some battles in WWI. Pete buys a book about their adventures.

The history of the area is pretty fascinating as are the stories of hardship and endurance by the Navajo Indians. The land is sacred to them – no alcohol can be sold on it. It’s part of the Navajo Nation which strides 4 states – Utah, Arizona, New Mexico & Colorado.

Dine Bikeyah or Navajoland is larger than 10 states in the US. It’s a nation within a nation. The land has a varied landscape rich in culture, mysticism & enchantment. It is full of beautiful mesas, plateaus, canyons, mountains, rivers and washes.

The Dine (or Navajo people) believe that they have passed through 4 different worlds before emerging into this world – the fifth world or Glittering world. They believe that there are 2 classes of beings: The Earth people & the Holy people. The Creator placed the Dine on the land between the four scared mountains and instructed them never to leave their sacred homeland.

The Navajo Tradition believes that ‘they’ came – she from Turquoise Mountain and he from Star mountain - in harmony with all things that have no end: the sun, the moon, the turning of day and night, the seasons, the sky and the earth. Their way of life is definitely more spiritual and involves nature in all things.

Navajo is an oral language and they look at life as a learning experience for betterment, they are ever searching for knowledge in their surroundings.

It’s back to base camp to sit among the red rocks surrounding in all their wind carved shapes and enjoy the evening. C also does some booking for our stay in Boston and trip around New England in the Fall.

Next day we decide to take the Deluxe 3.5 hour tour into MV booked through Gouldings (a long established company which seems to own most of the lodgings and tourist business in the area – though the Navajo Nation are building a lot more of their own facilities to compete.)

It’s at 8.30am start, there are 17 folks in all – other than us the rest are from the US on vacation. Robert is the tour guide and driver in a 4X4 truck. It’s a bright sunny morning if a bit cool. First stop a Hogan (Indian wood and mud hut) which are the traditional homes of the Navajo. A lady inside gives us a demo on how they make carpets and manage cooking and household chores.

Next we go into the Tribal Park and take the 17 mile road that all visitors can take – but it’s unpaved and really only suited to 4X4 vehicles though loads of folk take their cars at their risk – we would not recommend it and definitely no RVs.

The trip stops at key points where we can take pictures and buy Indian jeweller or arts and crafts. It’s pretty awesome to view the Mesas and buttes close up – the natives have different names for them – most of the names have to do with shapes they have evolved into overtime – bears, dragon, little sisters, etc. Some are named after famous people (we assume by ‘The White Man’). Perhaps the Navajo feel this sells the site better than the real Indian names for them e.g Agathlan is an ancient volcano that was renamed El Capitan by Kit Carson (the guy who lead the war against the Navajo & made those captured take the ‘Long Walk’ to New Mexico and of the 9,000 only 3,000 survived. This was forced relocation & when it didn’t work the Govt. gave in and allowed then back to their lands) and this name seems to have stuck. Others worthy of note are Mitchell Butte & Merrick Butte (named after 2 ex-army prospectors looking for silver in MV and who disappeared never to be seen again), one is named Brigham’s tomb after Brigham Young the leader of the Mormons – no idea why, and another is named John Ford Point – where the Hollywood director who was persuaded by the Gouldings to make movies in the area, who had a favourite spot to view the beauty of MV and sat around smoking his cigars. Not sure of the native significance of this other than to assume that commercial reality dictates even in the Navajo Nation.

John Wayne (directed by John Ford) made Stage Coach here in 1938 and it’s on show free at the Gouldings movie theatre each night. Many films have been made here since – latest being The Lone Ranger, Mission Impossible, back to the Future 3 to name but a few.

Robert also mentions the Code Talkers of the war and how uranium mining was a big industry till they closed the mines. They apparently mine coal near Page. It seems like the Navajo have sold their souls for the green back as despite the talk of ‘Spiritual Lands’ etc., all commercial activities that disturb and disrupt this is ok.

Robert gives us a potted history of the area, its geography and how it was created (or evolved) over millions of years. It was once the sea bed. He touches on the traditions & culture of the Indians and provides an inside into the areas wildlife which now includes Condors from Page. The usual suspects other than wild horses that we see a lot of are: - coyotes, wolves, Bob Cats (Lynx), Cougar, rattle snakes, sliders, tarantulas, ravens, etc. As its spring there are a few wild flowers around – blue, white, yellow mostly.

Interestingly Robert says that the Navajo were not descendants of the Anasazi people who roamed the central parts of the US and left drawings on many rocks as a way of communicating. The Navajo he suggests came from Alaska and parts of Canada. As the Indians did not have a written history there are many theories about their origin & migration.

Towards the end of the trip we are taken to a few natural Arches which are in themselves pretty impressive and make for good pictures. Unfortunately the trip back means that the winds have picked up and we get covered in the red dust of the desert.

After a lazy afternoon in the RV we go to the Tribal Park to witness sunset over the Valley. It’s pretty good. Then we snatch a quick beer in the RV in the car park before going for dinner to the Navajo Restaurant (no alcohol here). Pete has the mutton stew & we try the Navajo taster menu – which includes an Indian fried bread taco (good), mutton stew (tasteless), green Chile stew (bland) and Possole (awesome) with Indian bread, soup and salad.

We decide to take a day out from being on the road all the time so it’s a late get up and leisurely breakfast. It’s a gorgeous day & warm (75 degrees). We go to Gouldings Lodge as they have a Museum, Gift shop and cinema there. The Museum is free and really interesting & impressive - about how 2 young Americans (Harry and Leone ‘Mike’ Goulding) in 1924, a year after they got married decide to come here and set up a Trading Post and do business with the Navajo and other travellers. It all started in a Tent & small coral. They got on well with the native Indians and traded food stuff for jewellery, art and crafts. In the early 30s they went to Hollywood and persuaded Director John Ford to us the location’s beautiful spots for movies. The first one was ‘Stagecoach’ with the Duke – John Wayne. The rest is history – many movies and commercial advertising companies followed. The Goulding eventually sold out to a large corporate concern but their vision seems to live on. They have motels, campgrounds & RV Park, a Petrol station, grocers and run tours as well.

One room is dedicated to the movies made here. There are signed messages from ‘The Duke’, Henry Fonda, and John Ford etc. Some of the John Wayne movies are shown free each evening in rotation.

There are some beautiful early pictures of the Trading post, the local people farming, a replica of the Trading post as it would have been and the Goulding home as was. A walk in time and down memory lane!

Lunch is by the road side about 250 yards from the lodge where the view of Monument Valley is quite special. Probably the best picnic we have ever had even if it was sitting in the RV looking out of the window admiring the view while drink Budweiser. Nice one!

We go to the evening free 20 min video which is about the history, culture and geography of the area and a section on the Gouldings and the part they played in the development of the area and their relationship with the Navajo. We also discovered that Harry called his wife ‘Mike’ because he couldn’t spell Leone – her real name. It was interesting though interrupted by some French tourist who couldn’t keep quiet or their young children under control. F**k W**s.

After more pictures of sunset from the lodge, it’s BBQ time and sleep. This ends our first foray into Utah and it’s been awesome. We will be back in about 3 days to visit the Parks & Monuments in Mesa Verde & Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Dugh Shay apparently). See you in Utah – part 2.

For now it’s off to Colorado again………..

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