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Road-tripping in the Southwest

View 2021 & 2020 on mrb430's travel map.


As I mentioned in our last post, we recently spent two weeks or so in the Southwest United States. Our flight into Salt Lake City was amazing. I had no idea the vastness and desolation of the Great Salt Lake or the amazingly varied landscape of it. You can imagine the settlers finding it and their wonderment and, likely, disappointment.

Violating the Prime Directive

After flying in, we headed up to the small town of Logan, Utah to pick up our new truck. And let me just pause here to say that I know we have an unconventional life. Our legal residence is Florida, our mailing address is Virginia, we live in Baja, and we were titleing the truck in South Dakota but I'm pretty sure we blew the minds of the dealership in this small town. They just couldn't figure us out. I mean add to it that we had flown from Baja to come up and pick up the truck from them after completing the entire purchase online and through email. In the end, we worked it out and I think they got an education but it was kinda hysterical and we kinda felt like the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek Into Darkness when they violated the Prime Directive by letting a primitive civilization see the future. In any case, it was a beautiful drive back down to I-15 and we saw some amazing fall colors and golden grasses.

Crossing the Divide

When we planned to pick up the truck, we knew we had to fit a visit to my parents into the mix. I mean, when you're less than 500 miles from somewhere out West it's practically a day trip! We took two days to do it, stopping in Vernal, Utah overnight. We traveled on US 40, which is two lane most of the way and virtually devoid of traffic except in the small towns. There were times we'd travel fifteen minutes or more without seeing another vehicle. Through Utah, there are a lot of reservoirs and beautiful grasslands.

Once into Colorado the highways follows the Yampa River for quite awhile and crosses it numerous times. It was really lovely.

Climbing into the mountains in Colorado, it became a breathtaking drive that took us up over the Continental Divide at Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado at 9426'. The Aspens were golden yellow and orange, the willows had turned yellow, and the wildflowers were blooming. It ticked a bucket-list item for me of seeing the Aspens in the fall.

We enjoyed being in Fort Collins with my parents. It was a great surprise for us all that it worked out.

We did some US-only shopping, ate a lot of US-only food, and generally reacquainted ourselves with our country. Scott has a perpetual bucket list for whenever we return to the US, mostly involving food. Steak sandwiches, wings, buffalo chicken, Jujyfruits, you get the idea. It was also a productive break because we got the truck registered with South Dakota (yes, it's all online and through the mail and it's open to anyone with a US address). We didn't want to cross back into Mexico without proper plates and registration so it all worked out perfectly. And then we were back on the road.

Ticking off the Bucket List

Two places I've always wanted to go are Great Sand Dunes National Park and Monument Valley so I put those on our itinerary on our way back to Baja. The drive across US 160 from I-25 takes you around the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Colorado and past Mount Lindsey and Blanca Peak, the fourth highest in the Rocky Mountains. They are a beautiful range of mountains in the semi-arid southeast of Colorado.

On the way into the park, we drove up the Zapata Falls Trail for Libby's (if you read the last blog, you will know that's what we named our truck) first off road excursion. The views back to the dunes were awesome.

The Great Sand Dunes are enormous and really amazing. The entire dune field encompasses 30 square miles and the tallest dune towers 750 feet high. They have all kinds of activities from sliding down the dunes on boards (nope!) to hiking up them (double nope!). We just enjoyed the views.

I think what attracted me to them was just the strangeness of all that sand at the base of the mountains. Thousands of years of erosion and wind. It lived up to my expectations and we're really glad we stopped. We drove on through more aspen and passed the Wolf Creek Pass Overlook with stunning views down into the valley around Pagosa Springs before we spent the night in Durango, Colorado.

Here's a short video with some of the highlights of the day's drive.

The next day we headed out on Highway 160 again, detoured to the Four Corners monument and let Scott step into New Mexico to add another state to his list. Then we headed into southeast Utah toward bucket list item number two.

Monument Valley was first made famous in early Westerns, including those by John Ford and a few starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda, and later in movies by Sergio Leone. It was also used in a few space movies like 2001, A Space Odyssey. BUT Monument Valley is located on Navajo Nation land and visitors exploring the area usually travel with a Navajo guide. Due to Covid-19 and it's terrible impact on the Tribes, Monument Valley was closed! Thankfully, Valley of the Gods offers similar scenery without the tribal restrictions; it is located on BLM land and was OPEN! Valley of the Gods is filled with isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections, and was totally amazing!

The western end of the Valley of the Gods road connects with Hwy 261 just below what is known as the Moki Dugway. The Moki Dugway is a section of very tight switchbacks on Muley Point Road that allow it to climb the cliff face to the top of Cedar Mesa and, after turning into a dirt road across the mesa, out to Muley Point. The Point looks out over the massive canyon carved by the San Juan River. The drive up and the views were definitely worth the detour.

Check out this video of our drive through Valley of the Gods and up the Dugway to Cedar Mesa (apologies to the bug on the windshield!).

Our last stop wasn't on my bucket list but it easily could have been. Goosenecks State Park is a small park up on another mesa that overlooks a place where the San Juan River makes a few hair pin turns that result in a meander of six miles to cover barely a mile westward toward Lake Powell. The water was a strange color of green that reminded us of the weirdly blue glacial rivers we've seen.

We went on to Flagstaff for the night and to watch the Chiefs game - yes, I brought my jersey!

And maybe just a word or two is in order about how we stayed safe in these times. We cleaned every touchable surface of every hotel room with Clorox wipes the minute we entered. We ordered food in and ate in our room almost exclusively. We bought our own alcohol and made our own drinks, which can be challenging in places like Utah! We wore our masks and stayed away from people that weren't. And we used a lot of hand sanitizer. In all honesty, we were pleasantly surprised that in most places we went into people were wearing masks and even small hotels were taking appropriate precautions. It was a really different experience and we missed being able to socialize and meet new people but those times will return someday. For now, we made safety our priority. The great thing about touring these types of places is the whole point is to be outdoors!

Baja Bound

Before bee-lining back to La Paz, we did a short detour down Hwy 89A from Flagstaff down to Sedona. We thought the canyon a bit underwhelming but the red rocks of Sedona are pretty cool.

The town itself is just another tourist outpost for adventure activities. Scott had been in Sedona in the late 90's and couldn't believe how much it had changed and begun to look like a million other small tourist towns. After Sedona, we hit I-17 and took it down, with a jog a Phoenix, to I-8 and crossed the bottom of Arizona before crossing into California. The only thing of interest on this part of the trip was seeing the "border wall", which was a fence where we were, and these giant sand dunes that came up out of nowhere.

We spent the night in El Centro, California and crossed at Mexicali without incident the next morning. After a beautiful trip down MX-5, which is a beautiful, new, lightly-traveled road and much superior to MX-1, we spent the night in one of our favorite towns, San Ignacio. Of course we enjoyed a few margaritas on the square, too.

The next day we arrived back in La Paz. If you're interested in seeing the Baja, check out these posts. Driving the Baja Peninsula, Part 1, Driving the Baja Peninsula, Part 2, and Adventures on Our Way Out of Baja. I didn't document it again.

We really enjoyed being on the road again in a ZR2 and seeing some new parts of the US. It was like welcoming an old friend back into our lives. We're thinking of another extended road trip next year if things improve with the Covid situation. Stay safe!

Posted by mrb430 10:18 Archived in USA

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