Mysterious Towers of Hovenweep Ruins

We know a bit about the people who built the Hovenweep Towers but much of their history remains unknown

In the high desert country which straddles the border between southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, the Hovenweep ruins with their mysterious towers induce a strange silence, something you cannot quite explain.

Walk in ancient footsteps. Soak in the silence. Marvel at a night sky overflowing with stars. Hear a lone coyote’s howl. Experience the past at Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In our experience at Hovenweep (a Ute word meaning “deserted valley”), you hear nothing at all for long periods. When you see the occasional visitors, they seem to walk along the trails and among the ruins in deliberate quietness. They seem to speak with hushed voices, as though they were exploring the sanctuaries of the great old European cathedrals, many constructed at about the same time the early Pueblo people called Anasazi built the Hovenweep villages.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep is one of those out of the way destinations that are easy to miss, especially in the midst of southeastern Utah where national parks such as Canyonlands and Arches, Monument Valley, the San Juan River, and Cedar Mesa offer a myriad of recreational options.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep preserves six villages once inhabited by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. The six Hovenweep site groups are located within a 20-mile drive of each other along the Utah-Colorado border.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These units vary greatly in size, the largest of which is the 400-acre Square Tower Group. Both this group, where the Ranger Station is located, and Cajon Ruins are located in Utah. The Colorado sites are Holly Ruins, Hackberry Canyon, Cutthroat Castle, and Goodman Point. Altogether, Hovenweep National Monument encompasses 785 acres.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor center contains exhibits and educational information for visitors. There is a small sales area with books specializing on the cultural and natural history of the area.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These structures evoke an ancient time—one filled with the sights and sounds of a vibrant and dynamic culture. Family groups built their homes at the heads of canyons, surrounding life-giving seep springs that provided water, cooler temperatures, and shade from the cottonwood and hackberry trees that grew there.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perched on the canyon rims, these villages have weathered the centuries, owing to their solid foundations and careful construction. The towers and rooms of Hovenweep are unique in the style and quality of their masonry. Stones are carefully shaped and small rocks and mortar fill the gaps between, keeping out sun, cold, wind, and any small creatures.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These structures at Hovenweep are numerous and varied. Some are square, some D-shaped, some round, some almost four stories tall. The exact purpose of the towers is uncertain, but possibilities include celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civil buildings, communications towers, and ceremonial buildings. Only limited archeological work has been done at Hovenweep. None of the structures have been rebuilt and remain standing after 700 years.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hovenweep people built increasingly larger and taller towers over time, an indication of the increasing importance of the structures. They built them (in cross section) in D-shaped, square, rectangular, circular, or irregular outlines. They located them, often with perilous entryways, on canyon ledges, canyon bottoms, even atop large boulders.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some of them, they built viewing ports, suggesting lookout or, possibly, defensive structures. In some, they left ceramic vessels, stone tools, stone grinding basins, and food plant traces, suggesting living, working, and storage areas. In some, they incorporated wall openings which admitted shafts of sun at summer solstice, suggesting solar calendars. For some, they constructed tunnels which led from the towers to kivas, suggesting a ceremonial function.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why did the Hovenweep people, unlike other Anasazi, concentrate on building increasingly large towering structures with various cross-sectional shapes, in differing (even dangerous) locations, for apparently diverse functions? Why did they hold the towers in such importance? No one can say for sure.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The towers remain one of the enduring mysteries of Southwestern archaeology.

Worth Pondering…

I hope you dance because…

Time.

Time is a wheel.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me, who wants to look back on their years and wonder where their years have gone.

—Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, I Hope You Dance

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West

The mesas, thin buttes, and the tall spires rising above the valley, and the contrasting orange sand, makes Monument Valley the most impressive landscape in the southwest

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, the towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (or Valley of the Rocks) to the Navajo, they believe it is a gift from their creator and each unique formation has a story.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery, incredible beauty, and age-old tradition.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in mid-afternoon and obtaining information about available options for exploring this wonderland of rocks, we departed the Visitor Center at Lookout Point and started the Valley Drive, a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is considered one of the world’s premier spots for landscape photography. The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb. The best times for photography are early mornings and late afternoons when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph. Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a swirl of red dust we dropped down into the valley rim in our four-wheel-drive dinghy with guide map in hand.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive—the journey is suitable for the majority of family cars, and small to medium sized RVs, though the surface is perhaps not improved too much in order to increase business for the many Navajo guides and 4WD Jeep rental outfits, which wait expectantly by the visitor center. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though rough in many spots and probably impassable in wet weather, the road was easily travel on this day.

We wound our way past the Mittens, Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, and to John Ford’s Point—named for the famous director who made movies in Monument Valley, many of them starring John Wayne.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The weather was perfect—sunny and warm—as we continued on past Camel Butte, the Hub, and to the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei. The changing light and shifting shadows created an never-ending stream of views. Continuing on around Raingod Mesa and Artist Point, we timed our drive to return to the

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After photographing the amazing sunset we drove our toad east to our camping site at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a round day trip of 119 miles.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne

Moab’s Scenic Byways

Every trip to Moab should include a drive along at least one scenic byway

The Moab area is blessed with four scenic byways­. National and state scenic byways help recognize, preserve, and enhance selected roads throughout the U. S. based on their archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR-128)

Length: 44.0 miles

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This spectacular route along the Colorado River gorge begins at the Colorado River Bridge on the north end of Moab. For the first 13 miles it parallels the Colorado River within a narrow section of the gorge providing breathtaking views of the surrounding red sandstone cliffs. Popular attractions along this portion of the route include viewpoints of the river, public camping areas, and Grandstaff Canyon. At 13 miles the gorge widens as the highway proceeds past Castle and Professor Valleys.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After 24.7 miles the highway passes a viewpoint for an amazing view of the red rock spires of the Fisher Towers. After leaving the valley, the road winds farther up the river gorge until arriving at the site of historic Dewey Bridge at 29.8 miles. Unfortunately Dewey Bridge was destroyed in April 2008 by a brush fire. The road then follows the northern bank of the river before exiting the Colorado River gorge. The highway proceeds across open desert toward the ghost town of Cisco at 44 miles. After another 5 miles the route intersects Interstate 70.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (SR-279)

Length: 17.0 miles

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Scenic Byway provides great views of the Colorado River, ancient rock art, and dinosaur tracks. A late afternoon start is rewarding as the sunset on the reddish-orange sandstone cliffs along the route is especially beautiful on the return drive to Moab. The byway begins 4.1 miles north of Moab where Potash Road (SR-279) turns off of Highway 191. After 2.7 miles Potash Road enters the deep gorge of the Colorado River. At the 4 mile point, look for rock climbers on the cliffs along the section of Potash Road.

At 5.1 miles several petroglyph panels are visible on cliffs on the right side of the highway. At 5.9 miles the Poison Spider Trail Parking will be on the right. A kiosk on the end of the parking lot will have a map for a short trail to dinosaur tracks and rock art. Trailhead parking for the trail to Corona and Bowtie Arches is available at 9.9 miles.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for Jug Handle Arch at 13.5 miles. Shortly beyond Jug Handle Arch, the canyon widens and the sheer cliffs below Dead Horse Point State Park become visible in the distance. The paved highway ends at the Intrepid Potash Mine where potash, a mineral often used as a fertilizer, is extracted. From the end of the byway drivers with high clearance vehicles can continue on a dirt road to Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway (SR-313)

Length: 35.0 miles

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Mesa Scenic Byway (SR-313) takes you through miles of incredible red rock canyon country. To reach the byway, head north from Moab on US-191. After about 9 miles look for the “Dead Horse Point State Park” sign and turn left (west) onto SR-313. This is the start of the byway.

Dead Horse Point Mesa Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a series of hairpin curves as you begin to ascend the plateau, the road mellows out allowing you to appreciate the scenery. At about 14.6 miles from the beginning of SR-313 a fork to the left leads to Dead Horse Point. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands’ sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dead Horse Point State Park, backtrack to Highway 313, turn left, and head toward the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, ultimately ending at Grandview Point. This section of the park sits atop a massive 1500 foot mesa—quite literally an Island in the Sky.

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway

Length: 60.0 miles

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of the red rock landscape below. This paved Scenic Backway begins on US 191, six miles south of Moab, and winds north over the La Sal Mountains through Castle Valley, ending at Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway U-128.

Returning to Moab provides a 60 mile loop drive that requires approximately 3 hours to complete. Note that several hairpin turns on the Castle Valley side of this route are unsuitable for large RVs.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood

The Monument Valley Trading Post is unlike any other you have visited. It offers a wide selection of contemporary and traditional American Indian Art, memorabilia of Monument Valley, and souvenirs of Hollywood movies shot on location.

Magnificent Monument Valley is not a national or state park but, with 91,696 acres, it is a small part of the great Navajo Nation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and stretches into Utah and New Mexico.

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post. Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in the early 1920s by Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone, nicknamed Mike. For half a century they maintained a warm relationship with the Navajo, trading with them and finding markets for their handmade items, helping lift them from poverty that plagued the reservation.

Along the road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And then came the Depression, hitting the valley with a brutal vengeance. There was a terrible drought in 1934 and then another one in 1936. Income from the trading post diminished to virtually nothing. 

Then, in 1938, with times desperate and conditions bleak, Harry Goulding took his one-in-a-million shot to Hollywood and what he managed to do reverberates to this day.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Armed with a photo album of 8-by-10 scenes of the valley made by famous photographer and close friend, Josef Muench, the Gouldings drove to Hollywood and sold movie director John Ford on the idea of using Monument Valley as a backdrop for Stagecoach, released in 1939. It won two Academy Awards and made John Wayne a star. The connection forged in that office on that day between Ford and Harry Goulding was the beginning of a new era in the American Western.

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s said that when John Wayne first saw the site, he declared: “So this is where God put the West.” Millions would agree. 

The road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next 25 years, John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In addition to introducing the valley’s spectacular scenery to an international audience, each movie pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy.

Along the road to Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post is now a sprawling complex of 73 motel rooms, a campground, and a souvenir shop. (Harry Goulding died in 1981, Mike in 1992.) The original 1925 trading post has been turned into a museum. Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is both a showcase of varied artifacts and a glimpse into a bygone era. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is comprised of several different areas. The first is the Trading Post Bull Pen, where the locals would bring their goods to trade for items: kitchen wares, canned goods, material and threads, and even guns. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next section of the museum is the Ware Room where surplus and supplies were stored: bags of raw wool, crates of coffee, and saddles. Today the Ware Room is filled with photographs of the early days at Goulding’s and pictures of local Navajos from the 20th Century. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Josef Muench Room boasts a variety of artwork and photography, principally, that of famous photographer and close Goulding friend, Josef Muench. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Movie Room was originally built as the mess hall for the crew of The Harvey Girls; today it is filled with movie stills, call sheets, and posters. Always playing in the Movie Room is a classic John Ford/John Wayne film. 

The Living Quarters is upstairs and has been restored as closely as possible to how the Goulding’s home appeared in the late 1940s and early 50s. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Captain Nathan Brittles’ Cabin, also called John Wayne’s Cabin, is located just behind the museum. In actuality, it was Mike Goulding’s potato cellar, where she stored her fruits, vegetables, and other perishables. 

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room while experiencing the beauty, culture, and history of the true American West. The dining room offers Navajo and American Southwestern cuisine in a historical, awe-inspiring setting.

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Campground offers 66 full-service campsites nestled amid red rocks.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

Utah’s Fishlake Scenic Byway Fall Foliage Amazes

See a kaleidoscope of fall colors along the scenic route to Fish Lake

The lure of fall foliage is no secret. Bursts of saturated yellow and fiery red demand your eye and call you to the open road.

With forecasting apps and digital foliage maps, terms like peaking and peeping are common language among RVers and other travelers with a craving for visual fall flavor.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah is an ideal place to see nature’s paintbrush at play. There are a number of native trees which create brilliant hues of red, orange, yellow, and purple. A cascade of color comes from canyon maple, quaking aspen, scrub oak, Douglas hawthorn, serviceberries, evergreens, and more—each turning in succession.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s wide array of forests, national parks, and scenic byways are located at different elevations and receive varying amounts of rainfall. This creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors.

Explore the best drives for fall foliage paired with unexpected adventure. One such road is the scenic route to Fish Lake.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fishlake Scenic Byway begins at the intersection of Highways 24 and 25. Like us, most travelers reach this intersection via Richfield on I-70. This approach from the northwest is a pleasant drive and deserves mention.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 119 east from Richfield is a scenic route, starting out through pretty farmland then climbing into wild, open, undeveloped desert hills. It is 9 miles to the intersection with Highway 24. Angle to the right, signed for Fish Lake, Loa, and Capitol Reef. Highway 24 is very scenic, through mostly undeveloped public land, high-desert prairie covered with pinyon, juniper, and sagebrush. A few miles farther you reach the northern end of Koosharem Reservoir.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At about mile 17 the road begins to climb into the foothills of the Fishlake Plateau. At just under mile 23 you reach the well-marked turnoff on the left for Highway 25, the proper start of the Fishlake Scenic Byway.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fishlake byway, somewhat narrow but paved and well maintained, continues climbing and enters Fishlake National Forest 4 miles from the start of Highway 25. By this point you have completed most of the initial altitude gain on this drive. From here the road actually descends slightly to Fish Lake at mile 7. Dense stands of aspens make this drive especially attractive in the fall. At this elevation even summer nights are brisk, and the days are cool and pleasant.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forest’s prize jewel, Fish Lake, is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazen aspen forests. Seize the opportunity to see the leaves change on an aspen clone known as Pando, which is believed to be the heaviest organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Pando is located about 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on state Route 25.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake, lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state, attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across the lake, the long ridge of Mytoge Mountain forms the eastern limit of the Fish Lake basin. To the north, Mounts Marvine and Hilgard, both well over 11,000 feet, remain snowcapped for most of the summer.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake shore is dotted with three commercial resorts, two RV parks, three campgrounds, and numerous picnic areas and boat launches. At just under mile 8, note the large board locating the several campgrounds within the Fish Lake Recreation Area. Though camping is abundant, count on the campgrounds filling up quickly on summer weekends.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a full-scale National Forest Service brown-log-cabin resort development here, but it is on a low-key and fairly unobtrusive scale. Here you will find a gas station, general store, marina, RV park, cabin rentals, and even a laundry.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.

It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

5 Utah Scenic Byways for Leaf Peeping

Explore the best scenic drives in Utah for fall foliage paired with unexpected adventure

The lure of fall foliage is no secret. Bursts of saturated yellow and fiery red demand your eye and call you to the open road. With forecasting apps and digital foliage maps, terms like peaking and peeping are common language among RVers with a craving for visual fall flavor.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But when it comes to Utah’s fall foliage, travelers pursue the leaf peeping road-less-traveled. Often overlooked for New England or the Smoky Mountains, Utah’s wide array of forests and state and national parks—each located at different elevations and receiving varying amounts of rainfall—make for a diverse foliage spectacle.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s geography creates a multitude of peak viewing times throughout the state, so you can come early or late in the season and still spot breathtaking colors courtesy of the canyon maples, quaking aspens, scrub oaks, Douglas hawthorns, serviceberries, and more.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good gauge is to assume that the colors begin in the highest elevations in mid-September and wrap in mid-October across most of the state. The season beckons for weekend drives on Utah’s scenic byways and taking in views as you make your way to the trailhead. Find something pumpkin flavored, fill your apple cider canteen, button up your flannels, and hit the open road for some awe inspiring leaf peeping.

Pair with the World’s Heaviest Organism: Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) and Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway (SR-153)

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These two scenic byways bookend Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis that features three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching from the east on Fish Lake Scenic Byway, you’ll pass the forest’s prize jewel, Fish Lake, which is known for its recreational bliss and yellow-blazen aspen forests. Seize the opportunity for a scenic drive in Utah to see the leaves change on an aspen clone known as Pando, which is believed to be the heaviest organism ever found at nearly 13 million pounds. Pando is located about 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on State Route 25. If you want to pair your drive with mountain biking, hiking, camping, or fishing for eager-to-bite mackinaw and rainbow trout, make sure to add this spot your autumn itineraries bucket list.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the western side of the forest, the Beaver Canyon Scenic Byway climbs from the town of Beaver to a high point at Eagle Point Ski Resort. If you’re feeling adventurous and your clearance allows, continue the route on the unpaved Kimberly/Big John Scenic Backway over volcanic remnants that are now the 12,000-foot Tushar Mountains and down into the Sevier River Valley corridor.

Pair with a Miraculously Resilient Landscape: Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (SR-143), Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (SR-14), and Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (SR-148)

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This high-elevation and densely forested area of Southern Utah offers a particularly unique leaf peeping experience this fall. During June and July, a fire consumed 70,000 acres near the area of Brian Head, though the town and resort were fortunately saved. In many ways, the patches of charred backdrop make the contrast of the multitude of spared trees even more dramatic.

Patchway Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yes, you will see fire damage along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway, but you will also see maples and aspens, golden and fiery red along your journey up to a 10,000-foot plateau. Remarkably, this area connects three scenic byways and features the outstanding Cedar Breaks National Monument—the topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Southern Utah’s Fall Color Loop, begin your loop in Parowan at the start of Utah’s Patchwork Parkway National Scenic Byway (S.R. 143), weaving through a patchwork of historic towns, geological formations, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities. The pink cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau glitter in the distance as an ancient lava field sprinkled with aspen trees line the road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue as long as you like, but at some point turn (or make your way back to) the junction of S.R. 143 and S.R. 148, which becomes the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway as you head south. Along this journey you will encounter the large, natural amphitheater of Cedar Breaks, which creates a supreme backdrop for fall leaves. To finish the loop, turn west back towards Cedar City at the junction of S.R. 14. You’re now on your third scenic byway: the Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Zion National Park could be called a heaven on earth, a red-rock wonderland created by wind, water, and snow

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 feet from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $35).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…
Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries

When visitors come to Moab they usually search out the famous arches of Arches National Park, the world-renowned mountain biking, or the amazing river rafting. Canyonlands National Park seems to be an afterthought to many people. “Oh, there’s another national park here? Cool, let’s drive out there for a couple of hours to check it out.” 

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located to the west of the town of Moab and a short distance from Arches, Canyonlands National Park is wild and wonderful and diverse in its landscapes and travel opportunities. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing, photography, and adventure.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires stretching across 527 square miles. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers. Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West’s most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Canyonlands, opportunities abound for day hiking and backpacking. Mountain bikers can tackle challenging dirt roads that lead through the heart of the park. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts. In addition, this area is, in general, set up and managed for hikers with lots of loop trails and a good selection of easy or moderate hiking options as well as backpacking opportunities. Most trails have sections of slickrock, so get used to following cairns.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands National Park is also a great place to view incredible scenery from the paved roads that lead to awe-inspiring viewpoints. The well-marked turnoff for the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is on the left at Highway 313, 6 miles north of the Arches turnoff on U.S. 191 north of Moab. A few miles along Highway 313, note on the right Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, looking like their namesake Civil War ships.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Eventually you come to a prominent fork: left it is 4 miles to Dead Horse State Park, straight is 4.5 miles to Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Dead Horse Point is, like Island in the Sky, an isolated promontory of stone jutting out over the deep gorge of the Colorado River. The overlook provides some of the most famous views in the region, especially of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. It is well worth a side trip.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park has about 10 miles of paved roads. The longest branch of the paved road leads to Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Along the way are several stops at man-made or geological points of interest. You will drive in on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway; make sure you stop at Newspaper Rock before you get to Canyonlands. It is one of the better roadside rock-art viewing sites in the Southwest. A 50-foot-high sandstone face is covered with a variety of fine petroglyphs from several periods.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For those staying overnight, Canyonlands offers some of the most peaceful campgrounds you will ever find.

Camping in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to enjoy a fun family vacation and share an intimate experience with the landscape. Plus you’ll be out there in the early morning and late evening when the light is amazing, especially for photography enthusiasts.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Squaw Flat Campground is located 3 miles west of the Needles entrance station. The campground here has 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for $15 per night. The campground has electrical hookups, drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, ADA sites, and flush and vault toilets.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The smaller Willow Flat Campground is located about 9 miles southwest of the Island in the Sky entrance station. Willow Flat has no water, so come prepared. There are 12 basic sites (first-come, first-served, $10 per night) with fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, and vault toilets. Junipers and piñon pines decorate this small campground, which is a good place from which to explore the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. A number of trails lead to striking vistas, arches, and other geologic wonders.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is also a campground at Dead Horse Point State Park, reached by turning east of UT 313 before you enter Canyonlands northern entrance. The campground here has electrical hookups and water, and, unlike the first-come-first-served national park campgrounds, you can use your credit card to reserve a site.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Do yourself a favor and don’t hurry through the park. Instead, take your time and let the nature of Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges

Even considering Utah’s many impressive national parks it is difficult to rival Capitol Reef’s sense of expansiveness, of broad, sweeping vistas, of a tortured, twisted, seemingly endless landscape or of limitless sky and desert rock.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Bryce and Zion are like enveloped fantasy lands of colored stone and soaring cliffs, the less-visited Capitol Reef is almost like a planet unto itself. Here you get a real feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park is an expressive world of spectacular colored cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes, and deep canyons. It’s a place that includes the finest elements of Bryce and Zion in a less crowded park that offers a more relaxing experience than either of those more-traveled Utah attractions.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a mammoth buckling of the earth’s surface with colorful canyons, tortured desert, and numerous bridges and arches (“waterpocket” refers to the potholes that dot the sandstone and fill with rainwater). The park’s name combines the popular term for an uplifted landmass, “reef,” with a visual resemblance of the park’s many white Navajo Sandstone domes to that of the nation’s Capitol Building.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In some parks you really need to get away from the road to find the best scenery, but in Capitol Reef there is a plentitude of beauty that can be accessed by vehicle. Views in Capitol Reef are considerably more “open” than those in Zion, which is rather confined by the narrow canyons.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A logical place to start is the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, a 25-mile round trip paved road that is lined with pullouts that allow you to stop and take it all in. One highly recommended stop is the Panorama Point/ Goosenecks view area on the park’s west end.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From this scenic drive several short side drives on well-maintained dirt/gravel roads can be negotiated in virtually any vehicle. The first of these, Grand Wash, is sort of like taking a Disneyland ride in your own car. The hike through the Narrows, from the trailhead at the end of the Grand Wash drive is recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take the entire 2.5-mile walk which ends at Highway 24, or just go about 0.25 mile to a cutback trail (somewhat steep) on the left to visit Cassidy Arch, where Butch is said to have hung out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You should definitely drive out to the end of the unpaved but well-maintained 2.2-mile Capitol Gorge spur, a few miles farther along the scenic drive. It is hard to imagine a more unusual driving experience: The gorge ends in a narrow channel carved between sheer cliffs.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a visit to Capitol Reef’s rocky wilderness, the green groves and fruit orchards around the intersection of Highway 24 and the park scenic drive are a cool and welcome sight. Just after the turn of the century, the Mormon community of Fruita, nestled in the shaded canyon formed by the Fremont River, was a lively, vibrant town of nearly 50. Though most of Fruita’s residents gradually moved away after Capitol Reef’s establishment as a national monument, the fields and orchards remained.

Visitors may even pick small quantities of fruit: cherries in June, apricots in July, pears in August, and apples in September. Look for U-Pick signs and be prepared to pay a small donation for any fruit you take with you. The money, collected on an honor system, goes to maintain the orchards—a very worthy cause.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in the Fruita area check out other historic attractions including the Fruita Schoolhouse, old Blacksmith Shop, the Fremont petroglyphs, and the Gifford Homestead, which in addition to offering a snapshot of pioneer life, bakes the harvest of the season into incredible pies. The one-room schoolhouse built in 1896 remained in use until 1941.

Past the old schoolhouse the petroglyph trail continues for a mile to to Hickman Natural Bridge. This is perhaps one of the best park walks in all of Utah with scenic views and glimpses of Fremont Culture ruins. In this lightly traveled part of the world you will probably have this highly recommended walk mostly to yourself.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Rock That Tells a Story: Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock features a rock panel carved with one of the largest, best preserved, and easily accessible collections of petroglyphs in the Southwest

Extra, extra, read all about it! The reviews are in: You can see all the news you can’t actually read at one of the West’s most famous rock art sites. And there’s no fake news here!

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings in these ruins tell the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives. But what exactly these petroglyphs are communicating, we’ll never know for there is no actual translation available at this remarkable Utah attraction.
Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the 41-mile Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (S.R. 211) in Bears Ears National Monument, now part of the 71,896-acre Indian Creek unit designated December 4, 2017 by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bears Ears National Monument includes red rock, juniper forests, high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes are tied to this land.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A petroglyph panel of such renown, Newspaper Rock was listed on the National Register of Historic Places long before either Bears Ears National Monument or Indian Creek added prominence to the remote corner of Utah. The landmark is covered with images of animals, people, ancient symbols, and depictions of the natural world etched into the rock by peoples from the Fremont, Ute, and Ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Native American tribes. It’s surmised that the perennial natural spring attracted ancients to this distinctive area of Utah.

As one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the country, Utah’s Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument is like a living museum. However, thankfully, you don’t have to peer at the pristine rock art through glass at this site.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rock is called Tse’ Hane in Navajo, or “rock that tells a story.” There are over 650 rock art designs here that feature a mixture of forms, including pictures resembling humans, animals, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The 200-square-foot rock site is a part of the cliffs along the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Canyon is a popular Utah destination for rock climbers who flock to the Wingate sandstone for its pristine cracks, which are scaled with traditional climbing aids. However,  nature lovers will still get much out of the scenic drive; better still, the road leads to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, which offers a number of great hiking trails ranging from family-friendly walks through historically significant places to overnight backpacking trips.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at the base of the 200-square-foot rock and trying to decipher what the ancients were trying to communicate, craning your neck to count all of the artwork, sketching and replicating some of the petroglyphs in your own notepad, losing count when you try to see who can count the most antelope, driving the awe-inspiring byway and looking at all of the massive, perfectly-red Wingate sandstone cliffs.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just across the highway from the petroglyphs there is a picnic area and campground, which is free and is first-come, first-serve. The area is open year-round, and the best times to visit are March through late-May and September through October.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No fees or permits are required to visit Newspaper Rock or to drive the Indian Creek Scenic Byway. There are fees to enter Canyonlands National Park.

Driving Indian Creek Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes