Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Naturally

A Delaware-sized museum of sedimentary erosion that walks you down through a 200-million-year-old staircase

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

So called for the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon south toward the Grand Canyon, marked by vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs, and Chocolate Cliffs. Lots of colorful scenery herein, natch! They ought to call it the Grand Stare-case.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sense of wonder inspired by the magnificent beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument excites the imagination and invites exploration of the natural world. Within this vast and untamed wilderness, visitors find places for recreation and solitude.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entry into the national monument is by two paved roads: Highway 89 between Kanab and Big Water on its southern end and All American Road Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Boulder on the north. Johnson Canyon Road and Burr Trail are two other hardened-gravel access roads. All the other roads into the Monument are dirt, clay, or sand. Caution should be exercised when traveling on unpaved roads as conditions can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Services, smart phone access, and water are generally not available.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite their different topographies, these three sections share certain qualities: great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states. Human activities are limited on these lands, yet their very remoteness and isolation attract seekers of adventure or solitude and those who hope to understand the natural world through the Monument’s wealth of scientific information.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Staircase rises in broad, tilted terraces. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: vermilion, white, gray, pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest part of the Monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the Plateau appears to fan out southward from the town of Escalante into an enormous grayish green triangle, ending far to the south at Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The 42-mile-long Straight Cliffs mark the eastern edge of the plateau, ending at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the north of Fiftymile Bench is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,000-foot Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of pale Navajo sandstone which the Escalante River and its tributaries, flowing down from the plateau, have carved into a maze of canyons. In this arid territory, it is ironically water that has done the most to shape the landscape.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As intriguing as it is beautiful, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also provides remarkable possibilities for scientific research and study. Researchers continue to uncover new insight about how the land was formed and the life it sustains.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What scientists are learning and the methods they use to understand what it all means can be discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors centers located in the communities of Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville, and Escalante. With so much information to share, each visitor center’s interpretive exhibits focus on different scientific themes, including paleontology (Big Water), geology and archaeology (Kanab), the human landscape (Cannonville), biology, botany, and eology (Escalante).

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through interpretive exhibit, visitors learn about the spectacular Monument resources and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world.

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

When an ad campaign is too successful

As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, I have to wonder if Utah’s celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is “at capacity”.

The Mighty Five campaign was a smash. The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the Memorial Day weekend of 2015, nearly 3,000 cars descended on Arches National Park for their dose of Wow. All 875 parking places were taken with scores more vehicles scattered in a haphazard unplanned way. The line to the entrance booth spilled back half a mile blocking Highway 191. The state highway patrol took the unprecedented step of closing it effectively shutting down the park. Hundreds of rebuffed visitors drove 30 miles to Canyonlands where they waited an hour in a two-mile line of cars. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since then, Arches has been swamped often enough to shut its gate at least nine times including the most recent Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, in Zion, hikers wait 90 minutes to board a shuttle and an additional two to four hours to climb the switchbacks of Angels Landing. There, visitors sometimes find outhouses shuttered with the following sign: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When word trickled back in that the ads had worked too well, the Office of Tourism responded. In 2016, it tweaked the campaign, calling it the Road to Mighty and highlighting lesser-known state parks and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The strategy appeared to work. Visits to the Mighty Five flattened growing only 4 percent in 2017 and a little more than 1 percent in 2018 while the state parks saw double-digit jumps. Just as Road to Mighty hit the airwaves in January 2017 Bears Ears National Monument was created. 

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And in 2018, the Office of Tourism massaged the campaign again, calling it Between the Mighty and adding Bears Ears to its destinations. Many questioned if overcrowding could be addressed by sending tourists elsewhere. Comments like “They ruined the parks, and now they want to ruin the places in between” were not uncommon.

By 8:20 a.m. the Delicate Arch parking lot often reached capacity. This mob scene was nothing like the Mighty Five commercials. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 4.5 million annual visitors, Zion is by far the most packed of the Utah parks (and was the fourth most visited U.S. national park in 2018). The horror stories about and the crowds are all true. 

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty years ago, the park made the visionary decision to shut Zion Canyon to cars. Everyone leaves their cars at the visitor center, the campgrounds, or the town of Springdale and takes a shuttle to the trailheads for Angels Landing and the Narrows. So there are no traffic jams, no RVs circling for a space.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Better than any front-country park in the entire nation, Zion has realized Ed Abbey’s dream of carlessness: “You’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk,” he pleaded, “better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t want to just be a curmudgeon who mourns the passage of time and fights any change to the way things were. I will never be young again, I get that. But maybe, one way we tap into the eternal is to see how that which is not made by human hand will outlast us all, just as it preceded us. 

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By doing just about nothing here in the wilderness beyond, the tourism folks appear to have done it right. As I looked around and found no trails, no rangers, nowhere to go other than this dirt lot, I wondered if this “park” might more accurately be called a scenic overlook or a campsite. Do humans need to change this landscape to make it more attractive, more fun?

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With talk of “destination development” and “destination management,” civilization forges ahead, until one day this last remaining strip of wilderness will cease to be sacred—and will become a Brand. 

I hope to God it fails.

Worth Pondering…

From Zion God shines forth, perfect in beauty.

—Psalm 50:2

Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

With towering red rock formations, natural stone arches, and 77,000 acres of land to explore, Arches National Park lives up to its name. The park is minutes from the city of Moab. Deciding what to see can be somewhat overwhelming as the crescent-shaped rocks seem to be everywhere. So far, there are 2,000 confirmed rust-colored natural formations in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to visit Arches National Park are April-May and September-October. The National Parks Service states on its website that traffic can get congested and parking can be a problem from March through October. However, we visited in late October and the park was not overcrowded, parking was not an issue, and it was cool but comfortable.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Delicate Arch is the most famous and popular arch in the world and is seen on TV and in photographs many times over. People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of this iconic stone. Visitors cannot see the arch from the car, however—there are a couple of viewing points to see the arch without a long walk. If you are hiking to the arch, allow at least two to three hours. At Delicate Arch is a historic homestead from the turn of the 20th century, Wolfe Ranch. On the hike the homestead can be seen, as well as Ute Indian petroglyphs.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Windows Section of the park is an area where Turret Arch, Double Arch, and North and South Windows are located. These are some of the largest arches in the park.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balanced Rock can be seen from the road and those wanting a short hike can walk around it and get views of the Windows Section.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden is home to a variety of arches that are connected by hiking trails. Landscape Arch is located at the end of the Devils Garden Trail. Possibly even more delicate than Delicate Arch, this 290-foot sandstone spiderweb makes you feel like you might be the last person to see it intact. It’s an easy 0.8-mile hike from the Devils Garden Trailhead with numerous other arches you can add on to your hike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers are seen shortly after passing the visitors center and making your way up the steep winding road. The canyon walls of Park Avenue stand tall with the thin, statuesque rocks resembling a big-city street lined with skyscrapers. You can walk among massive monoliths and towering walls and see views of the nearby La Sal Mountains. Beyond the viewpoint, the trail descends steeply into the spectacular canyon and continues one mile to Courthouse Towers.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether your visit is for one day or a week, taking the scenic drive is the best way to see the highlights. Driving all the paved roads in the park would take about 4.5 hours with time to stop at each viewpoint.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you only have a short time to drive, go as far as you can and it is easy to turn around and go back to town or make your way to the next destination. Maps are available at the visitors’ center.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking opportunities are abundant. Hikers can spend days on the trails which vary in length and skill level ranging from a 50-yard nature trail to a several-hour hike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab offers visitors many places to camp, eat, and play. Outdoor activities include Colorado River rafting, canyoneering, golfing, rock climbing, slick-rock biking, and more.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Moab and Arches visitors can go to Canyonlands National Park. Also close by are Dead Horse Point State Park and Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape.

—John Burroughs

Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Overrun.

As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, I have to wonder if Utah’s celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is “at capacity”

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Utah had a problem. Shown a photo of Delicate Arch, people guessed it was in Arizona. Asked to describe states in two adjectives, they called Colorado green and mountainous but Utah brown and Mormon. It was 2012. Anyone who had poked around canyon country’s spires and red rocks knew it was the most spectacular place on the continent—maybe the world—so why did other states get the good rep? 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state tourism folks hired an ad firm called Struck. They created a rebrand labeled the Mighty Five, a multimedia campaign to extol the state’s national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. By 2013, a 20-story mash-up of red-rock icons towered as a billboard in Los Angeles. Delicate Arch bopped around London on the sides of taxicabs. The pinnacle was a 30-second commercial that was masterpiece. It was like they took natural features that have been there forever and parks that have been there for decades and putting it together with a new brand.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mighty Five campaign was a smash. The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years. The state coffers filled with sales taxes paid on hotels and rental cars and restaurants. The Struck agency brags that the state got a return on its investment of 338 to 1.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And then, on Memorial Day weekend of 2015, nearly 3,000 cars descended on Arches National Park for their dose of Wow. All 875 parking places were taken with scores more vehicles scattered in a haphazard unplanned way. The line to the entrance booth spilled back half a mile blocking Highway 191. The state highway patrol took the unprecedented step of closing it effectively shutting down the park. Hundreds of rebuffed visitors drove 30 miles to Canyonlands where they waited an hour in a two-mile line of cars. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since then, Arches has been swamped often enough to shut its gate at least nine times including the most recent Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, in Zion, hikers wait 90 minutes to board a shuttle and an additional two to four hours to climb the switchbacks of Angels Landing. There, visitors sometimes find outhouses shuttered with a sign that reads: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

Moab is the gateway to Arches where famous landmarks like Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, and the Windows are reached by a single dead-end road. More than any other town, it has borne the brunt of the tourism spike.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the county population has grown in 30 years from roughly 6,500 to 9,500 and where there were a dozen or so small inns there’s been an enormous growth in lodging: there are now 36 hotels and 2,600 rooms, plus 600 overnight rentals, and 1,987 campsites. There’s no way to track how many people occupy each, but on a fully booked holiday that’s at least 15,000 people vastly outnumbering the locals. Traffic jams extend from tip to tail, and the two-mile drag down Main Street is a 30-minute morass. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe we can think of the Utah Office of Tourism as Dr. Frankenstein and its Mighty Five campaign as the glorious creature run amok.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course neither the tourism folks nor the Mighty Five campaign can take full credit for these booming figures or for the onslaught of tourists. Other factors helped. In 2016, the Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday launching its own ad campaign; between 2013 and 2016, park visits jumped 21 percent nationwide. The past six years have seen a recovery from the recession, low fuel prices, and a continued reluctance by Americans to travel overseas. And social media creates its own viral marketing.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Utah is a victim—or beneficiary—of the global phenomenon of overtourism that has wreaked havoc from Phuket to Venice and Machu Picchu. The rise in disposable income, the advent of discount airlines, and innovations like Airbnb and TripAdvisor made travel easier and cheaper.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t want to just be a curmudgeon who mourns the passage of time and fights any change to the way things were. I will never be young again, I get that. But maybe, one way we tap into the eternal is to see how that which is not made by human hand will outlast us all, just as it preceded us. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church—this is Zion.

— Isaac Behunin, 1861

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