Travel, Etc. --> Exploring Red Rock Country
Exploring Red Rock Country Part II
Colorado & Utah with a Little Wine Country
Our first park was the Colorado National Monument, just a few miles west of Grand Junction. I had ridden the National Monument on my bicycle 25 years ago, and the steep descents, climbs and dark tunnels were almost more daunting today in a car at 25 MPH, than they were on a bike at 40 MPH. Years and common sense have since prevailed and the park is best seen from your car or on foot. From the distance it just looks like a tall mes, but once inside the rugged canyons, towering rock spires and the sheer 1,000 foot drops (guardrails not provided) kept Linda's knuckles white all morning (and she wasn't even driving.) The 23 mile drive through the park provides truly breathtaking scenery and many photo opportunities. And, since a picture is still worth a thousand words, here are a few...
Colorado National Monument
On to Moab, Utah....the trip through eastern Utah can only be described as the widest expanse of nothing we have ever experienced....next gas station 70 miles read the sign at the state line! We left I-70 to take the scenic route, passing through the town of Cisco, population 0, unless you count the prairie dogs watching you pass by, to Highway 128, which followed the Colorado River through a dramatic towering gorge of red rock all the way to Moab. This dramatic countryside has been the set for hundreds of Hollywood movies, beginning with John Wayne in the 1949 Wagon Master to Thelma & Louise, Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Star Trek and others too numerous to mention.
Those same dramatic rock formations also make Moab the "adrenaline junkie" capital of the west, with rock climbing, mountain biking, river rafting, sky diving and hiking supplying the excitement. It made us feel a little sedate just visiting the parks. Since the town attracts a relatively young tourist base, it features lots of t-shirt, souvenir, outdoor gear and espresso shops.
We still managed to find great accommodations in the elegant, secluded 12-room Sunflower Hill Inn, which featured a daily gourmet breakfast, wooded grounds and a lovely swimming pool. And much to our surprise, we found a few restaurants that didn't involve big screen TVs, pizza by the slice and oceans of beer. The best of the restaurants was Desert Bistro where the attempt at fine dining in such a gonzo town (there is even a motel called the Gonzo Inn) was successful, with dishes like rabbit quesadilla, goyzas filled with bean hummus, roasted garlic and chipotle maple sauce, and beautifully presented bison tenderloins, rounded out by a (very overpriced) bottle of Norton Privada. You knew it was the best restaurant in town when we noticed that the two tables closest to us were speaking French.
And speaking of languages, the diversity of the people visiting the parks was amazing. Tour buses filled with Japanese and Chinese tourists were everywhere and at one stop we heard French, Spanish, German and at least three oriental languages all being spoken at once.
The real attraction is the parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Arches, just a couple of miles out of Moab, and Canyonlands, 30 miles outside, are as different as night and day. Arches features towering, red rock formations carved by wind and water, including over 2,500 natural stone arches. Canyonlands, on the other hand, and the larger of the two parks, is a high mesa that contains dramatic canyons, thousands of feet deep, formed by the confluence of the Colorado and the Green Rivers. Exploring by car and taking only some of the shorter hiking trails, we were able to explore each park in 4 to 5 hours. However, if you are feeling athletic, you could spend days on steep, and often treacherous, trails that attract, what we considered, suicidal mountain bikers (note the trail in the first photo of Canyonlands!) We got lucky...the temperature in August is usually 100-plus degrees, and there was a "cold snap" so we enjoyed the mid 80s. And as we said before, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true here.
Arches National Park
Canyonlands National Park
The strangest stop on the trip had to be Sego Canyon, a ghost town and Native American pictograph / petrograph site. It's just off I-70 at the Thompson exit 187. The town of Thompson is a gas station and campground and a lot of abandoned buildings. It's all pretty quiet and deserted. And it's a spooky, deserted three mile drive up the canyon to the first of the pictographs with the ghost town and abandoned mine and another half mile up an unpaved trail. I happened on the site in a guide book and when I Googled it, I was surprised by the number of references to UFOs and the 1968 book by Erich von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods, about proof of alien contacts with ancient civilizations. And the lonely drive up the dead end canyon had us sure that desperados willing to kill us were possibly lurking at the end of the trail (for what...our luggage and cell phones which didn't get reception there??)
It seems that while most of the petrographs are of native American origin and date back 100 to 400 years, there are a number that had their origins in the Archaic Period and date back almost 4,000 years. They are truly bizarre and certainly keep the spooky feeling that the "we are not alone" crowd seems to have seized upon, because of their similarity to other paintings of the same period in far flung corners of the world. As you can see, they are pretty strange and kind of make you wonder what the natives may have been smoking...or seeing. The trip further down the road to the ghost town is worth the bumpy ride, and don't miss the tombstones on Boot Hill.
Last week, Colorado Part I
September 18, 2013