Rock formation at Capitol Reef National Park.
Day 5: Thursday
The first target for this day was Capitol Reef National Park. I found out that a reef was a line of mountains without a pass, something that would stop the movement of settlers. The name Capitol was added because of rock formations that reminded people of the domes of capitols. This was a day of contrasts. Very few radio signals out here in the wilds, and mostly talk radio at that. Almost no gas stations and bathrooms, and when I found those, there weren’t any restaurants. Capitol Reef didn’t have a small town at the entrance like Zion and Bryce, only the visitor center, which had no food or drinks. Luckily I had eaten a candy bar and procured a large coke at the gas station a couple of miles down the road before I got there.
On the scenic drive.
Reef had a scenic drive that required an entrance fee like all National Parks, and a highway that went right through it. The method of payment was putting money in an envelope and putting it through a slot. Since I had an Annual Pass I just ignored it. I took the scenic route, which led to some spectacular formations. The view of the landscape outside the park was also pretty damned cool. There were some washes to cross with warning signs, so I kept a close watch on the weather. Then it was back to the visitor center and onto the highway that cut through the park. The formations were pretty damned spectacular along that route as well. It was about a hundred and fifty miles to the next park, Arches, with almost nothing along the way. The terrain was really varied, with some streams, desert, stands of pines, and even some marshlands. Cattle grazed on green grass, while across the road desert scrub was the only vegetation. Found one gas station on the way from Reef to I-70.
Formation on the way to I-80.
One of the ‘Windows’ at Arches.
From I-70 it was down highway 191 to Arches National Park. Arches was undergoing road construction, which happened at night, so they closed at 7 PM each day. And some of the most spectacular formations were off limits until the roads were finished. I arrived about 4 and was soon on another switch back climbing high into the sky. Again, spectacular rock formations, including some balancing rocks to go along with the windows and arches. I didn’t get all the way through the park. I needed to get something to eat, so I only spent a little over two hours in the park.
Balancing Rock at Arches.
Moab was not a large town, but it was a real town, with about a dozen motels, McDonalds, Wendys, Pizza Hut and Denny’s. Checked into my hotel, and was very glad I had booked, since otherwise they had no vacancies and went out to eat, then back to the hotel to sleep. Woke about five and had trouble getting back to sleep. Finally dozed off, and was back up again at six. This was the first night of the trip I had any trouble sleeping. Couldn’t really blame it on the room, which was comfortable.
Day 6: Friday
Colorado River at Dead Horse Point.
Got up and ate breakfast at the motel, then got on the road. I had a long day planned, with four stops. First up was Dead Horse Point State Park, just north of Moab. I had planned to go to the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park after this (not to be confused with Needles, California), but found that the Island in the Sky section was just down the road from the state park, so that was to be my second destination of the day. Dead Horse Point was named after a herd of reject horses that were left to die of thirst within two hundred feet of the Colorado River after the acceptable mounts had been taken. The view from the well stocked visitors center was spectacular, that of the point overlook even more so. As advertised, it was a miniature Grand Canyon, which was as it should be since this actually was part of that massive canyon system. The rock formations on the way to the park were also spectacular. Met and talked with a German couple, then an older couple from Pennsylvania. The German couple talked about how much wilderness there was out here. I guess I agreed, but seeing as we got to this point by paved road, it didn’t seem to be wilderness to me. Unpopulated, yes, mostly natural, but wilderness? Bought a Bluray disc of the geology of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, something I was sure would come in handy in planning my post-apocalyptic series. I already had a good idea of the path my characters were going to take to find the refuge of Zion, and this would help make those decisions.
Grand Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
Next was a couple of miles down the road to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is where the Colorado and Green Rivers come together. There were some spectacular views on the way, but the Grand View was well named. Here you could see the entire canyon laid out, spread wide. It had to be at least ten miles, possibly the eighteen they state as the maximum width. Beautiful formations in every direction. Satisfied that I had seen what I needed to see I headed out. Canyonlands was my sixth National Park of the trip and wouldn’t be the last. This was the first park I didn’t go into the visitor’s center at. I had bought something at all the others, and was starting to get weighed down with books.
More of the canyon at Canyonlands.
Next stop, Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. I had read a lot about it, and was anxious to get there. Another long drive through mostly empty country. Mostly high desert, some sparse forest, a few rivers. An hour portion with no radio stations, AM or FM, then a station in Navajo, with a combination of Native American and Reggae music. Bizarre. Commercials were in Navajo, with English words and numbers here and there to fill in for concepts not expressed in their language. Going through the valley I was surprised that there were so few turn offs for people to take pictures. A real oversight. And the valley was not as spectacular as I had hoped. Oh, the formations were cool, but I think having explored the National Parks getting there I had been overloaded by beautiful rocks. The formations were more spread out than those of the National Parks, which was different. I drove off, and the two best formations were at the end, with, again, no overlooks.
Monument in Monument Valley.
So next I headed toward Tuba City down in Arizona, where I hoped to drive into the Navajo Reservation and get a good look at the Painted Desert. It was almost two hours to Tuba City, another indication of how vast and empty this land was. I turned off from Tuba and took the back road to Winslow, which gave me the same arrival time as the front way. So off I drove, my GPS telling me I would be in Winslow in an hour, looking for the Painted Desert. I saw parts of it, but again there were no places to turn off to take pictures. A rainbow arched over the high desert from the recent rain. And when I got to the next highway, the one I thought would take me to Winslow, and my GPS said I was seven minutes away, I saw a sign that said I-40 was over fifty miles away. I checked my cell phone and saw that the time had gone back one hour. Utah uses daylight savings time, and so do the Arizona Indian Reservations, but not the rest of the state. So it was fifty miles of almost deserted road on the way to I-40, with no bathrooms. Hell, with no anything at all. I checked into the Motel Six, and then found that the Painted Desert was actually best viewed from Petrified Forest National Park, my destination the next day.