Category: Utah

Drive to Navajo National Monument

Friday, August 12, 2022

67 degrees at 6:00, going to 91 deg.

Sunrise from our campsite in Natural Bridges National Monument

At 8:00 we set out for Navajo National Monument, turning south on 191. I desperately needed to get the Virginia Airstream newsletter out. With no cell phone service recently, it has been difficult. We could have turned left to the nice Visitor’s Center in Blanding, but hoped to find something in Bluff. We turned at sign for the Visitor’s Center and parked in the shade. 

We were greeted as soon as we entered, showing us pictures and an exhibit. I had read a sign in front of Natural Bridges National Monument about the Hole in the Rock, wondering if it was the Hole in The Wall gang, but it was not. It is the amazing story of a group of 236 Mormons assigned on a mission to the Four Corners area. Their 200-mile trip took six months in the winter. They had to cross the Colorado River, widen a slot canyon through the west wall of Glen Canyon and build a road up the solid rock San Juan Hill. Exhausted and out of food, they stopped in what would be called Bluff, Utah on the San Juan River, irrigated, planted and made a trading post. As our guide said, “It would become the Walmart of the time”. 

Hole in the Rock
Then going up San Juan Hill

We watched three cool movies in three rooms describing the events, then toured the center. Outside were cabins, wagons and tools showing what it was like in those days in 1879. It was cool, but I HAD to get a newsletter out, so we sat down at a picnic table and went to work. It took me 45 minutes to update new members. I’m sure there is a better way to merge an Excel spreadsheet with gmail. I thought I got everyone, but would latter learn I had missed at least one.

It was noon by the time I was finished, or as finished as I was going to get. We filled with diesel at $6/gal and got some ice and orange juice. We turned west on 160 toward Kayenta through increasingly drier land. Temperatures fluctuated around 90. We turned north toward the Monument where a sign warned not to bring trailers over 26’ due to limited turn-around areas. We were 25’, so we drove on. 

We went into the nice, and busy Visitor’s Center. I showed my Senior Pass, but the lady said. “This is a no-fee park.” She explained the two camping areas that are first-come first-serve. With this crowd, we hurried to the small campground, but it was almost empty. We drove around three times, trying to pick a good site, settling on #4. We wiggled around 15 times before we were satisfied with our position, but still, I could barely put the awning out.

View from the back of our campsite

We went back to the Visitor’s Center, which was now quiet. It is an historic site where people lived 1,000 years ago. Well, they probably lived here much longer than that, but this was the building era of the Anasazi or The Ancient Ones. the Center had beautiful basket, pottery and tool displays. 

We walked out back where trails led to views of the ancient sites. It was getting late and a storm was brewing, so we went back to camp. Soon a big thunderstorm came with a lot of greatly-needed rain.

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

57 degrees at 6:00

A short rain early, but then cleared. The stars were amazing after the moon went down, and I saw several shooting stars. I am frustrated not having cell phone coverage, although a message or email will occasionally sneak through. I am way behind on the blog and I desperately need to get the Virginia Airstream newsletter out. 

Since we had a little rain, we decided to have a morning fire. I love a morning fire to take the chill off until the sun comes up. By 9:00 we had packed up, hooked up, filled our water jugs and set out on the gravel road from Bradfield Campground. We were nervous when we first pulled in on Sunday with a weekend crowd, but Sunday night they all left, except one camper, Chuck and his wife. We had three peaceful, beautiful nights there for $4/night.

We turned onto 491 north toward Monticello. It was only a two-hour drive, but we had some things to do. Our $4 campground didn’t have a dump station, so Martha searched on Campendium and found a Maverick Adventures First Stop gas station had a dump station! It was a big station with a big store and a tractor-trailer parking area. We were surprised there was no fee. They also had fresh water for an RV, but our hose wouldn’t reach. We could have, or should have, bought a second hose, but storage is always an issue, so we went to the Monticello Visitor’s Center. Jim Eberling greeted me and told me where two spigots were. There was a five dollar fee, which I paid. 

On my way out the door I noticed a cool museum across the hall, and called Martha to come see. They had some neat things, including moccasins from before the Anasazi! Jim got to talking to Martha about our travels, then took us to his desk to point out some things we shouldn’t miss. Sheez! There is so much stuff to see, especially in the amazing San Juan County, Utah, that it would take months or years to see. We did note “House on Fire” and Bear’s Ears National Monument. I need more time!!

Despite considerable wiggling, we could not get close enough to fill the water tank, so on we went to the next town, Blanding, and stopped in their Visitor’s Center. The nice lady said we could get water at the 7-Eleven five blocks away. Well, they had good WIFI and a nice sitting area outside under some trees, so we sat down to get email, get what I needed for the newsletter, and to fix my protonmail server. By then we were hungry for lunch. Across the street was Patio Diner, rated 4.6, so we went in. Martha got a Burger while I had a Chicken/avacado sandwich. 

Then down the road for water at the 7-Eleven. I enquired inside, and she said it was $5. I happily paid, and she handed me a telephone with a cord and a funny-shaped key attached. Showing me a map, she said pull in front of the station, over to a house to find the spigot. I crept across the lot with eyes searching for water in front of this house, and there it was – a water spigot with a padlock on it and a sign above. Using the key attached to a telephone, we unlocked the padlock and happily filled the water tank. We noticed there was an RV park just ahead of the spigot.

Now it was 1:00 and we still had an hour to go to Natural Bridges, and it was hot. Out of town, we took a right and were greeted by a sign warning us there are no services for the next 120 miles. We should have a full tank of gas, food and water. Sounds like the Loneliest Road through Nevada, only that is a lot further. 

Down we went into the valley toward the Colorado River, and the terrain became more desert-like. Winding our way around, we finally turned into Natural Bridges National Monument. We were greeted at the Visitor’s Center by a young woman who lacked all charm and warmth. After showing my senior pass and driver’s license, she tossed me a one-page description of the park. We looked around the small center and headed out to the campground. 

We could drive around, select our spot, and pay at the self-pay station. We were the only ones there, and selected site 4 for the views. Combined length should not exceed 26’. Well that eliminated us, but we might have to pay for another site for the truck. We’ll see. It’s considerably more expensive than our last site at $7.50/night with a Senior Pass. God Bless those passes!

After a little rest, we drove the “Loop”, which is 9 miles long, beside a lovely canyon. We got out in several places to take a look, and were impressed. Now we really are left with one day to try to see a lot. At the last overlook, we talked with a young lady, who was walking a pretty big hike. Her boy friend has just taken a job here, so she took some time off to explore the area. Like Karen, she is a big-time hiker, and soon she was off to get in a few more miles. She told us one way to do this is to hike down one side, walk along the bottom, and come up the other. Martha said, “Then you have to walk back across the mesa to get to your truck.” I’m sure someone would give us a ride, or you could leave a bike. 

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument has its own Visitor’s Center and a nice campground. This is a unique area, because the ancient ruins are concentrated in a small canyon that you can walk around on a 2-mile path. It has some unique structures, a castle-like building right on the edge of the cliff, a square tower built in the valley by one of two creeks that once fed this area. I wondered if this could have been an ingenious water tower. Two structures have giant boulders for roofs. Then there is a twin tower building on the edge of the cliff with tiny doors leading in. 

The people were small, so they didn’t need big openings. This was all before doors were made, so they didn’t want to let the warmth out or the cold in. Their windows were small holes. I envisioned waterfalls fed by the two streams that are now bone dry. I wondered if all the modern diversion of water and irrigation could be affecting these stream beds. 

Ute Mountain is called Sleeping Ute Warrior, who came to fight evil forces. He won the battle, but laid down to rest and fell asleep. A river flows from his wounds. He will come back one day to fight the evil forces again. There are several mountains that are both sacred to the Indians and guides to travel – Ute Mountain, San Francisco Peak and Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

We drove back to the Canyon of The Ancients Visitor’s Center. We had been there on Sunday, but it was closed. The building is beautiful with indigenous plants and flowers around a courtyard resembling a great Kiva. The inside is impressive, a combination museum and visitor’s center. There are pictures and artwork showing how life might have been. There is a Kiva showing how these might have been used. Relics  are displayed throughout a huge room. Beautiful baskets, pots, tools, bows, arrows and arrowheads were on display. A bank of drawers demonstrated all the plants and how they were used, The yucca amazed me the most.

It was getting late, and we were both on overload after watching two short movies, but we knew there was an ancient site behind the Center. We climbed up the hill on a paved, winding to find a cool ruin sitting on top of the hill with spectacular views. Now the large McPhee Reservoir sits below. It was only about 85 degrees, but the western sun is hot. Clear skies and altitude make it more intense. 

Lots of ruin sites were covered by the reservoir

We drove 17 miles back to Bradfield Campground where there was only one other camper. The Dolores River runs through it. This is a popular white water run through a canyon. With a Senior Pass it only costs $4/night, and the stars are the most amazing we have seen. 

The Goosenecks State Park/ Valley of the Gods

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

We drove 30 miles north of Monument Valley to The Goosenecks State Park, stopping to take pictures at Forest Gump Point, with a very pretty view of Monument Valley. We also stopped at Mexican Hat to take some pictures. Driving up a gravel road, there was a campground ahead, but we decided not to explore it since we had a full day on the agenda. 

Run Forrest run!
Mexican Hat

We passed a sign for Bear’s Ears National Monument, which we would see later. I have been questioning what Bear’s Ears is during our travels in the southwest. I now understand it is over 2,000 square miles of land with hundreds of ancient heritage sites. Apparently difficult to understand and visit, I would like to return and explore it.

We pulled into The Goosenecks State Park, but the ranger station wasn’t open yet. Our Utah State Park pass came in handy again, so we went through to the parking lot. I had been tempted to stay at this campground, but wasn’t quite sure what it would be like out in the middle of nowhere. Well, it is very cool and safe. Only a few campers were there. You can also camp all along the rim, or just go out there for dinner, build a fire and enjoy the views.

It had been raining for a while, and a rainbow right over the Goosenecks greeted us. I scrambled frantically to get some pictures before it dissolved and went away. We walked through the campground and down a dirt road that wound its way to the end of a point. Along the way were primitive campsites with fire pits and overlooks of the San Juan River below. 

San Juan River winding around three goosenecks
Martha’s iPhone

Three people were camped in one, and we stopped to talk with them. It was a couple with a friend from Thailand had pitched tents last night. The stars must be incredible here, but they said it was cloudy. Still they loved their spot. They were headed for Valley of the Gods today, and so were we.

We continued out to the point to see the river bending around it. You could camp in the campground and come out here for dinner and a fire and watch the stars, or pitch your tent and watch all night. It’s a very cool spot!

We walked back to the parking lot where Martha talked with a jewelry salesperson named Bobby. His father and grandfather had sold their goods here too, and his father was a code-talker. Bobby is also a code-talker, but we think of code-talkers like the movie. He said the move doesn’t do it justice, but to read one of several books written on the subject. He talked about coming here with his father and climbing down to the river and how difficult it was coming back up. 

We drove northwest to Valley of The Gods, which is a 19-mile loop drive through the valley on a gravel road. It is very pretty, although the road is a bit rough. A tow truck was carrying a jeep out, which made us a bit leery, but the road was fine, and a van and several cars passed us when we stopped to look at named monuments. By the end, we thought the name was a bit over the top, but certainly a cool place. There is a bed and breakfast lodge on the west end of the drive.

Leaving the park and driving back toward Mexican Hat, we were struck by swirled colors along a mountain.

Monument Valley Navajo Tour

Monday, July 25, 2022

We drove a few miles from the KOA campground to the entrance of Monument Valley, on the Navajo Nation, and paid our $8 per person fee. We met Bobby Atele and climbed onto the seats built on the back of a Chevrolet pickup. A couple from Alabama were in front of us with their son. A young couple from Italy were behind us.

At the first stop, Bobby told us about several monuments before us, then about the plants around us, and how they are used. He talked about the movies and which monuments they were filmed around. Wikipedia ( lists 63 movies that have been made here starting in 1925. Stagecoach might be the most famous and iconic. John Ford would make eight movies here. Vertical Limit opens with a climbing scene on one. Mission Impossible opened with Tom Cruise climbing solo. Although Bobby said it was in Monument Valley, I found an interesting article on the event, (, which said it was filmed at Dead Horse Point, Utah, one of the coolest places we have been on this trip, where we met the handsome, young couple eating breakfast. I remember watching “Stagecoach” and thinking the red sand looked fake, but it is not.

Driving down into the valley, we stopped at John Ford Point, where some iconic scenes were filmed. They have a horse and rider to give perspective to the immense landscape, but the horse was eating breakfast.

We soon left the gravel roads and traveled on sand tracks made more tricky by a big rain last night. Besides the iconic monuments, we saw giant rocks shaped like oysters, a cliff shaped like a great dragon, a hole in the top of a cave that looked like an eagle’s eye from one direction and a Mohican from the front. to demonstrate the echo of the cave, Bobby played his flute. He was quite good. One area had very cool petroglyphs and remains of homes made of rock. 

At the dragon rock, a local farmer’s sheepdog came to check us out. Then I noticed the herd of sheep grazing and moving along the dragon. People still live amongst the rocks. Some of their homes are build like they were hundreds of years ago, because it works in this harsh environment. Some are built with modern materials. Sweat lodges are still used in a ceremony for the transition of a boy into manhood. 

Looking like a Mohican Indian facing to the left

It is rare to find homes or farms in a national park, but this is not a national park. It is the Navajo Nation. Although I first complained to myself about a house in the way of my picture, but the time we completed our three and a half hour tour, I became comfortable with it. Actually, it adds a lot when you realize these people have been here for hundreds or thousands of years. Bobby told of one lady who recently passed away at 105 years old, spending her entire life here.

There are so many things we would not have seen if we hadn’t taken this tour, and Bobby did an outstanding job.

Move to Monument Valley

We have been in a lot of places without cell coverage or WIFI, so I am 21 days behind! We have been in some spectacular places. Our national parks and monuments are great places. For the next 12 days, we should have good service, so I should catch up.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

We packed up at Ten-X Campground, with one more visit by our elk. Suddenly, there were barking dogs. I looked up to see a couple of mixed breed medium-sized dogs running after the elk. He took off at a big trot, leading those dogs to who knows where. Soon a young lady came after them, calling futilely. She may never see those dogs again, depending on how long they chase the elk, and if they have any sense of finding their way back to the campground.

 We hooked up and headed east, making one last stop at Lipan Point for some spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. Once down the mountain, we turned northeast on Rt. 160 toward Monument Valley. We were a little concerned about the heat, as we had been very comfortable at Ten-X. Except for the yellow jacket invasion, I would rate the campground a 9 or 10. As we drove out, we saw traps that were working well around the fresh water spigots. 

It was about a 2.5 hour pleasant drive to Monument Valley KOA campground. Once settled, we went to the Visitor’s Center. Although open, it was pretty stark inside. We wandered around reading signs and looking at pictures. A young foreign couple asked an employee about maps and trails. She was very curt. “All we do is sell maps. We don’t take credit cards. This is an all-cash park.” She gave them no information or help of any sort and should be relieved of her position immediately. The Welcome Center was not very welcoming.

We drove through the traffic circle to Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post to look around. Harry and Leone (called Mike) Goulding came here in the 1920’s, starting the trading post, hotel and bringing people here to see this great place. They were influential in bringing John Ford here. Ford would later film “Stagecoach” here. That would start a long history of movie-making in Monument Valley.

Back at the KOA, a big, black storm was approaching from the north. With monuments right on the other side of the street, we headed out for some pictures. It made for some very dramatic shots.

Canyon Overlook Trail, Zion National Park

Friday, July 15, 2022

On our last day with Karen, Josh and Melissa, we drove north through the tunnel to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail, the shortest hike in the park that provides a view of the canyon. It has some unique features that keep it interesting, but the views are spectacular. 

People were lined up to come up as we were going back down. It’s a very small parking lot, so a lot of people park along the road, which makes driving hazardous. 

Martha asked me recently what my favorite park has been on this trip. I don’t know that I have a favorite. They are all spectacular in their own way, or they wouldn’t have become a national park, but Zion has to be the most photogenic! 

Back at camp, Karen and the kids packed up, and we drove to St. George Regional Airport. It’s a small, but very modern airport. Karen said no one was at the counter when they went in, but it all worked out, and they arrived home the next morning safe, but very tired. 

At 5:30 PM

Angel’s Landing

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Much has been written about Angel’s Landing Trail; how difficult it is; how scary it is and how dangerous it is. There is a narrow section to cross at the top where two steel cables give you something to hold onto. I told Karen I would give it a go, but reserved the right to turn back at any time. We couldn’t get tickets to take the last part, but we could hike to an Scout Lookout just before the crazy part, which was fine with me.

An excellent, paved path wound up and around the mountain, gaining 1,100′ in altitude. I had to stop to catch my breath a number of times, but we made it to the Lookout along with a bunch of others. I was surprised to see bathrooms up there! It is, however, the most popular and highly-rated hikes in the southwest. the views were spectacular, but I was happy we weren’t going the rest of the way. My legs were shaky enough from hiking up, and cliffs and steep fall-offs scare me to death! If I made it, I’m sure Martha could have made it too.

The Watchman Trail, Zion National Park

Wednesday afternoon, July 13, 2022

It has been hot, very hot, in Zion National Park. Temperatures soar over 100o in the middle of the day. Our air conditioner can’t keep up, often tripping the 30amp breaker to the Inverter. Makes us all a bit grumpy mid-day. Our routine is to get out early and hike, come back for lunch, quiet hour, then an afternoon hike.

The afternoon hike was The Watchman, for which our campground is named. The trail winds around a canyon and to the top of a mesa. Two REI tour guides were giving a tour, so we got to listen to the comments. The mountain is called The Watchman because it is the last in line and looks back up the valley at all the other mountains that make up Zion National Park.

As we stood admiring the scenery, a man in his 60’s came for his afternoon run, jogging past the people, down the mesa, back up, then down the trail! It is a beautiful spot and well-worth the effort.

Emerald Pools Hike, Zion National Park

Wednesday morning, July 13, 2022 

You cannot drive on the Scenic Drive, so we took the bus. They come every five minutes or so, and are very efficient and polite, often giving the weather report and offering advice for the each stop. Zion is a very busy park, but they do a wonderful job of managing it.

We got off at the Court of The Patriots, where magnificent mountains surround a small cove. Then we set out to hike the Emerald Pools Trail. The pools weren’t in their full splendor, but the scenery was magnificent. I took a video of a showering, 200′ waterfall, but it requires more data than I have on my phone to upload. I put this on my “Favorite Hikes” list. With a waterfall (and another when it rains), pools and spectacular scenery, what better way to spend a couple of hours!

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