Monday, May 9, 2011

You have now entered the Twilight Zone....oh, nevermind, it's just Utah.

We've had a busy last couple of days which has delayed this update a bit, but we took a short travel day today to get some relaxation time in on Mother's Day.  When I last posted we were spending the night in Ouray, CO.  We were smitten with this town as soon as we saw  it, and spending the following day there did nothing to change that.  This town bills itself as "Switzerland in the USA," not for the feel of the town (at least I don't think so) but rather for the scenery that dominates your view from anywhere in town. After you see some of the pics below, it will be obvious as to why they chose that moniker.    It feels very much like a modern version of a town you would see in any number of old western movies.  Since it's been around since 1875, that is pretty much what it is.  As is the case with many of the towns in this area of CO it was established based on the mining of silver and gold in the surrounding mountains.  I guess they just happened to be lucky enough to be sitting on top of the hot springs that are now a huge draw for the town.  Of all the places we've been so far, Ouray is the one I'd most like to visit again.

After spending a few hours exploring Ouray, it was back on the road headed for Arches National Park in Moab, UT.  The first town we passed through on our way there was a place called Ridgway, CO.  It's only about 10 miles outside Ouray, and is a neat little town itself.  Ridgway is probably most famous for being one of the main filming locations for the original True Grit with John Wayne.  It's also considered the gateway to the San Juan Mountains which are quite impressive themselves.  We took a road that ran for about 20 miles through the San Miguel canyon alongside the San Miguel river.  At one point on the SMR, there must have been twenty beaver huts in the space of two or three miles.  The canyon itself was beautiful and it was almost disappointing when the road started to rise high above and out of the canyon.  This lead to some "neverending roads" in CO you'll see below as we headed toward Utah.

We made it to Moab, UT in just over 3 hours.  Moab is evidently the off-roading center of the universe (it's Jeep, dirtbike and 4-wheeler nirvana) and the VERY busy touristy nature (off-roaders and Arches national park visitors) tends to lead to no vacancy signs and very expensive rooms where there is a vacancy.  We had also planned on meeting two of my friends who were going to Moab to do some dirtbike riding.  They were staying in Green River, UT about 40 miles north of Moab.  Since we wanted to hang out with them, we decided to just drive on to GR and stay at the same hotel as one of my friends.  I did not bother to make a reservation as I assumed there would be no need.  Lucky for us, Blake, my friend staying there, arrived before we did, asked if we had a reservation and when he was told no we didn't, he told them to hold a room for us.  It was the last room!  So, thanks to Blake, we got a nice clean comfortable room in GR for about 1/3 of what a comparable room would have cost us in Moab....SCORE! :)  After we were settled in our room, my friend Arno came over to our hotel and we all walked down to the local steakhouse and enjoyed a nice meal and some even better conversation.  I don't see these guys nearly enough so it was really great to get a chance to talk with them late into the evening.  While we were talking I was looking over their dirtbikes and  I promised them I'd come back to ride Moab with them and I intend to keep that promise, hopefully sooner rather than later.  Both of them made a significant effort to head to the Moab area at the last minute because they knew we would be there and to top it all off, Blake even bought dinner that night.  I know you two are reading this blog, so a big thanks to both of you for making the effort, it was MUCH appreciated!

The next morning we got packed up and headed for Arches National Park in Moab.  We had a little taste of what to expect in Moab coming up highway 191, but were not quite prepared for the uniqueness that is Arches (and for that matter much of Utah).  You can see from the pics below what I mean, but the landscape in Arches (and some of the surrounding area) doesn't look like it belongs on Earth.  Michelle said it best when she commented that she felt like we were on Mars.  It's strangely beautiful, inviting and and at the same time gives of a foreboding vibe, almost as if it's daring you to venture in.  Now, traveling through the park to see it today in an air conditioned minivan is no big deal, but I can imagine 120 years ago, coming upon this place on horseback that would not be the case.  I didn't see any sign of water other than that brought in by humans.  It was 92 degrees today, VERY windy, and with sand blowing in our faces.  We only managed one of the many hikes there were to see the amazing arches because of the conditions.  With this dry heat you don't realize how much your are perspiring because it evaporates almost immediately.  Consequently, the water we took with us was nearly gone 1/2 through our hike.  In fact we didn't even complete the whole hike as Aldous was just plain DONE.  The dry heat may not feel as hot as the humid heat back east, but the sun out here in the higher elevations (everywhere is higher elevations compared to back home) is INTENSE.  All in all, even with the heat and wind we had a great hike and were able to see some really beautifully unique landscape both on the hike and in the car.  We are glad we put Arches National Park on our must see list. :)

After a 1/2 day at Arches (you could easily spend a few days here...if you weren't towing a baby around :) ), we then headed for Bryce Canyon in southern UT.  Fortunately for us, both Arno and Blake have traveled extensively all over the west.  Blake laid out a route for us from Moab to Bryce that he said would have the best scenery.  Arno looked at it and concurred.  These guys know their stuff.   The route they laid out was absolutely fantastic.  The landscape throughout southern UT is amazing in how significantly it changes.  We passed through desert areas that looked like you were on the moon, went over mountains that looked like they would have fit right in at home back east (only they were 3 times taller!) and, back again to scenery that looked like it belonged on another planet.  The most amazing piece of road had to be just after we crossed Boulder Mountain.  Boulder Mountain is in the Dixie national forest.  It climbs to over 9K feet, is covered in beautiful aspens and there are full flowing streams from the snow-melt everywhere (still had some snow cover as well).  After we descended Boulder Mountain the road flattened out for a few minutes and the speed limited  went up from 40 to 55 mph, after about 5 miles I saw the speed limit abruptly drop to 35 then 20 mph and judging from what I could see ahead I could not figure out why...until I rounded  the slight curve up ahead.  Just around that curve the topography completely changed from flat grass fields that you often find at the base of mountains to HUGE canyons.  The road we were on turned into a ridge between two of these canyons.  I am not exaggerating when I say  this was a two lane road  had no more than 3 feet of shoulder on each side of the road with no guardrails.  On the other side of that 3 feet were canyons several hundred feet deep.  This road was VERY curvy (S all the way) and to top it all off we were coming into dusk.   That road made the narrow one on the "million dollar highway" seem like a piece of cake.  We made it through there and about 15 miles later found a room in Escalante, UT for the night.

The next morning (today) we woke up, got packed and had a wonderful Mother's Day breakfast of Cheerios and bananas.  Apparently, in Utah damn near everywhere is closed on Sunday,   We made it to Bryce Canyon National Park in about an hour or so.  Bryce Canyon was beautiful, but the conditions were not.  It was EXTREMELY windy and not very warm, so hiking was not really in the cards.  Still, we saw some beautiful sites and after a few hours we left and headed for the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  We stopped for the night in Kanab UT (famous for having more westerns filmed here than anywhere else...something to do with being right smack dab in the middle of Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National's known as Utah's little Hollywood).  We have plans to hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon tomorrow, as it's supposed to be a better view and less busy than the south rim, BUT, we just found out it may not be open yet. Oh well, if it's not, we'll just take the 3 hour detour and check out the south rim.  :)

Here are some pics from the last few days...

Bella and I in the middle of our rock climbing.

One of the cool arches at Arches National Park.

Fading sun atop Boulder Mountain.

Arches is spectacular, but not very hospitable... :)

A shot from Bryce Canyon.

Sun fading on canyons after Boulder Mountain.

A never-ending road in CO.

We have yet to meet the "Dirty Devil," but we have crossed his river in Utah!

Finally, some real cowboys for Bella.

Our budding geologist trying to determine every rocks makeup by tasting them.

This is the "Grand Staircase" in Escalanter UT.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but in person it looks like a humongous staircase up this canyon.

This restaurant was attached to a Best Western.  I wonder if corporate approved this

The view from our motel in Ouray.

The hot springs pools in downtown Ouray.

This is your view from the hot springs pools.

A great pic of some mesas in southern CO.

An interesting house we saw in a valley in Utah.

To give you an idea of the size of this arch, those little white specs are people standing in it.

Another great pic of the mesas Michelle took.  I love the shadow of the cloud on the left mesa.

"Interesting" formations at Arches national park.

Bella said this one looked like a monster.

It's easy to see why Ouray is known as "Switzerland in America."

One day we are going to return to Ouray and have a beer at that roof top bar.

Natural bridge at Bryce Canyon.

They sell rocks, fossils, espresso and coffer apparently.

This is the San Miguel river in the San Miguel canyon...very pretty.  I could live along that river.

This place ROCKS!, get it?  Oh, never-mind....  :-)

Some of the surrealistic landscape of southern Utah.

Kinda looks like a fortress rising out of the Utah desert.

Right in the middle of this pic is Bella and I reaching the high point of our climb.

More surreal landscape of southern Utah.

I got out to take a look at all the weird black volcanic rock (your can see them, they are the round black ones) by the side of the road then decided to climb up about 100 feet or so to this odd rock shelf formation.

Yes, it's a slighly odd name for a river, but what made it really funny was that this sign was posted no more than 100 yards past the "Ho-made Pies" sign posted earlier.  Utah is an odd place.

Bella said this formation looked like "3 beautiful ladies wearing gowns."

Again, it's hard to tell from the picture, but this is a HUGE span about a couple hundred yards behind Bella.

Bryce Canyon, rainbow point.

They call this "the windows" at Arches National Park.

Bella and I beginning our climb, which was the hardest part.


  1. It was great to see you and to meet the rest of your family. I'm glad you're diggin' it out here :-)

  2. Hi Brendhan, Awesome blog, Liam sent me a link. Love the dialogue and pictures. Have a fun safe, rest of your trip !

  3. Wow! What a great time you are having-- The pictures and your descriptions should be in a travel magazine. Tell Isabella those formations DO look like ladies with aprons!

  4. Man oh man . . . you are reminding me of why I love the west so. And you're making me want to visit all these marvelous places again RIGHT NOW. terrific photos, great writing. Keep it up.

  5. this is so awesome! yay for you!

  6. Thanks for the all the comments! Please excuse my typos (again)...I really have to start posting these earlier...this one was done at 3AM again. :)

  7. Hope you made it to the South Rim. We did it at Christmas one year and stayed at Flagstaff. Drove the rim road in foot deep snow, but it was OK. Also, the Vermillion Cliffs are a "must see" at late afternoon to sunset.

  8. Your "budding geologist" looks like HE should be carrying YOU instead of the other way around!