Friday, September 30, 2011

Colorado / Utah / Arizona - August 18-24, 2011

This year's annual trip to the cabin in Colorado with a bunch of friends has come around again and we figured it was the 20th anniversary this time. I used the occaision to do a bit of sightseeing afterwards, just as I did last year.

The weather was good with only a little rain in the evenings. We were treated to an impressive lightning show as we sat on the porch one night. There was the usual hiking, fishing, tubing on the Platte river, and a big steak dinner. This year we had two sub groups of guys but the schedules let us overlap for a couple of days - we had eight of us at one time which is the record.

All eight of us - we're getting a bit long in the tooth.

After leaving the cabin (which is west of Woodland Park and East of Buena Vista), I headed toward US 285 and then south to Poncha Springs. There I picked up US 50 West over Monarch pass (11,312 feet) and then on to Gunnison. Since this was a Sunday, I saw numerous small caravans of vintage cars, corvettes, motorcycles, etc. who were out on a Sunday scenic drive.

As I got closer to Montrose, I hit the road to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The canyon was carved by the Gunnison River and is up to 2.772 feet deep and is quite narrow, down to only 1300 feet across at one place. The river drops down very rapidly at an average of 34 feet per mile (The Colorado River through the Grand Canyon only drops at 7.5 feet per mile). The river itself is rated at Class V to unnavigable for kayakers, so only the most expert ones have a chance (and they have to portage around some spots).

It is hard to get a good concept of the scale of things - I need a wide angle lens for my camera, I guess.

The following morning I headed north a bit toward Grand Junction. Near the town is the Colorado National Monument which is an area of spectactular canyons with sandstone and granite cliffs. It became a National Monument in 1911 and has a nice loop road through the area.

As I was arriving at the entrance gate I saw a sign that read 'Tunnels ahead - low clearance - 10'6"' which was pretty worrisome. My camper is just under 12' tall. I asked the ranger if the sign was correct and she showed me a picture of the tunnels and said I should be OK. The tunnels are carved in an arch profile and the low clearance is on the very edge of the roadway. If I stuck to the middle of the road the clearance was more like 14 feet. Fortunately the tunnels were short and there wasn't much traffic so I made it through with no issues.

Colorado National Monument

Afterwards, I took I-70 west for a ways into Utah and then headed south toward the Capital Reefs National Park. This park sits on the Waterpocket Fold, which is a 100 mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust. There are lots of canyons, ridges, buttes, and monliths. There is one area with a line of Navajo Sandstone domes which are white in color and remind people of the U.S. Capial dome which is where the park gets its name. I ran into a nice thunderstorm while I was there but managed to get a few pictures anyway. After stopping at the visitor's center, I headed on to Richfield, Utah where I camped for the night.

Capital Reefs National Park. Rain clouds made the pictures a bit dark.

The main visitor's center at the park.

The next stop was Zion National Park which is close to the southern border of Utah off of I-15. The main area is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. There is a road through the park but to use it I had to pay an extra $15 access fee because of the tunnel that cuts through the mountains. This is another arch shaped tunnel where the clearance on the sides is quite low. In this case, though, there is lots of traffic and the tunnel itself (built in 1931) is 1.1 miles long. They have to use flagmen at each side to stop traffic for RVs to go through while driving right down the center stripe. There were a lot of RVs so I wasn't the only one they had to handle specially. This park was by far the busiest one I visited on this trip.

Heading into Zion National Park.

Near the visitor's center at Zion.

Also near the visitor's center.

This is the line of cars waiting for our turn to go through the tunnel that leads straight through that rock wall ahead of us.

Emerging from the east side of Zion, I headed north again and a little east to arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park. Guess what? More spectacular scenery. This park is higher in elevation than the others - between 8000 and 9000 feet. It is basically a huge amphitheatre formed by erosion of the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. There are lots of formations known as Hoodoos. The road through the park has numerous stops for panoramic views of the valley. I camped that night in a remote KOA that sits between Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park. Examples of hoodoos.

Heading home the next day, I took a road south through Kanab, Utah and into northern Arizona. I saw the turnoff for the north rim of the Grand Canyon but I didn't go there this trip. The road headed toward Page, Arizona but I turned south before I got that far. Along the way the road traveled along the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. There isn't a visitor center for this place so I just took a few pictures along the way. It is a long stretch of cliffs, really an escarpment of the Colorado Plateau.

Part of the escarpment of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

Just a bit north of Flagstaff are two more National Monuments - Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki. Sunset Crater is a relatively young cinder cone from about 1000 years ago. There are quite a few lava flows and areas of cinders that look like they are brand new. The same loop road through Sunset Crater leads through Wupatki which is the home of several ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo from about 800 years ago. This used to be the largest pueblo in the area.

Some of the lava flows from the volcano.

The cinder cone of Sunset Volcano.

One of the ruins from Wupatki pueblo.

Following lunch in Flagstaff I made it home that evening. The only excitement was a big thunderstorm just east of Grants which caused a lot of water to flow over I-40. The west bound lanes where actually closed but the eastbound ones weren't as bad so I drove through the runoff without problems.

Total miles driven - 1887
Average MPG - 10.4

States Visited - New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona.