Arizona and Utah Parks – Oct 2019

Robert, Liza, Joanne, and Mark in Bluff, UT

October we were on the road, once again with Brooklyn friends Mark and Joanne Guralnick, for more national and state parks, national monuments, etc. The main goal on this trip was to get to three in southern Utah that have long been on the bucket list, and somehow we’d never gotten there: Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. But as always seems to happen on a driving trip, we tried to cram as many other locations in as we could! And we did much better on this trip understanding the geology along the way.

Following are a short and a verbose overviews – if you’d rather just look at photos, click here. If you keep reading, click any photo for a larger version.

The short overview, by the numbers!

Aspens in Flagstaff
  • 11 days!
  • 1850 miles in the car with Mark and Joanne
  • 4 national parks: Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands
  • 6 national monuments: Vermilion Cliffs, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Hovenweep, Navajo, Montezuma Castle, Agua Fria
  • 1 national recreation area: Navajo Bridge in Glen Canyon
  • 5 Utah state parks: Red Canyon, Escalante Petrified Forest (briefly), Dead Horse Point, Edge of the Cedars, Goosenecks
  • 2 tribal parks: Little Colorado River Gorge, Moenave Dinosaur Tracks (not to be confused with Dinosaur Tracks National Monument)
  • 3 miscellaneous: Valley of the Gods, Dinosaur Museum in Blanding UT, historic downtown Flagstaff

Now, for the verbose account:

After a quick trip to southern California to celebrate niece Maureen’s 30th birthday (in style, I might add – costume party and Robert’s new name is Uncle Indy!), we picked up Mark and Joanne at Sky Harbor in Phoenix, and drove on up to Flagstaff, spending the late afternoon at the Lowell Observatory.

The next two days were early starts as we had a couple of time goals. The first full day out of Flagstaff we got in a stop at the Little Colorado River Gorge Tribal Park (a half hour or so west of Cameron Trading Post) and the Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon, not to mention a drive-by of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Eagle-eye Mark found the California Condor for us on the Navajo Bridge! Then while Mark and Joanne enjoyed a visit to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary outside Kanab UT (gorgeous location in Angel Canyon), Liza and Robert checked out the BLM Visitors’ Center in Kanab.

The next day was a very early start, before sunrise, so that we could reach Red Canyon State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in the early morning. We were rewarded with fabulous views of the red rock formations and had the Bristlecone Trail out at Rainbow Point (the end of the road at Bryce) very nearly to ourselves.

Leaving Bryce before noon, we were able to make a fast stop at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, then up to Boulder, UT for a late lunch at the Hell’s Backbone Grill. We’d first heard about the restaurant in an article in the New Yorker that Mark and Joanne had sent us and basically we just had to go. 🙂

After lunch en route to Torrey, UT, we visited part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, driving into Escalante Canyon, and finding (after a little hunting) a slot canyon that was marked on the map but not signed on the road. Robert found it; we had it to ourselves for a bit before other people joined us – no doubt they found it because they saw our car!

The next day was our first “new” national park of the trip, Capitol Reef. While the highway pretty much goes through the park, an unpaved scenic drive within the park gets you up close and personal with a very scenic stretch of the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (wrinkle in the earth) that extends almost 100 miles.

From Capitol Reef it was on to Moab, UT, where we stayed at a condo for three nights. With Moab as our base, we explored Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky area), and did a river rafting excursion with Mild to Wild Rafting. We also visited Dead Horse Point State Park, near Canyonlands-Island in the Sky; fans of the 1991 movie Thelma and Louise might know that the ending was filmed there, although we all said we had to watch the movie again to see what we’d recognize.

We next visited another area of Canyonlands, the Needles area, on our way out of Moab. We thought the geology might be similar to the Island in the Sky area, but instead of looking out over deep canyons, we walked on the Slickrock Trail past weird formations that to Liza looked like smashed play-doh.

At Canyonlands-Needles (photo by Mark Guralnick)

That night and the next we were in picturesque Bluff, UT, at the utterly charming Canyon Wren B&B. From Bluff we went back up to Blanding UT to visit Edge of the Cedars State Park, which boasts the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery in the Four Corners Area as well as an archeological site. We also visited the both interesting and goofy Dinosaur Museum in Blanding (interestingly many of the large models were originally in the Museum of Natural History in Los Angeles Exposition Park!), and Hovenweep National Monument.

Goosenecks State Park – entrenched meander of the San Juan River

Leaving Bluff en route back to Flagstaff, we stopped at a few more sites, including Goosenecks State Park (an “entrenched meander” of the San Juan River), Valley of the Gods (BLM land, a mini Monument Valley without any entrance fees), Navajo National Monument, and Moenave Dinosaur Tracks (on Navajo land).

We finished off the trip with a walking tour of historic downtown Flagstaff (including visiting the train station that Liza remembers from way back in 1965!) before heading back to Phoenix, stopping at Montezuma Castle National Monument and Agua Fria National Monument on the way.

Again, for more photos, including Buddy Bison’s (!), click here.