Time to hit the road. After 1 layover, 14 new friends, 3 Alamo mini-vans, 1 night in Denver in my first US motel ever (a number again… Super 8!), the adventure starts for real. Coasting along the mythic Colorado River, we meet our first road companions, for a while: 2 very American and proud bikers, on their sparkling Harley Davidson. It’s time to hit the road and visit the stunning natural beauty of Utah, the Red Rock Country.
Known as “the Beehive State“, a nickname referring to the industry and perseverance of its citizens, Utah is the 13th largest State of the 50 US States, with a population over less than 3 million of people. It is now the only State where most of the population belongs to a single religion: the Mormons (in fact, it joined US only after poligamy was banned in 1.896).
Postcard 1: Arches National Park
PIC. Imagine the seabed of an immense ocean. 65 million of years ago, dried up and shaken by earthquakes, the soil arose and began to be fractured, exposed to wind and water, and dramatically changed. The sandstone has turned into amazing shapes: rock layers, pinnacles, arches, creating a Red Rocks’ Wonderland, whose king is the famous Delicate Arch (you can see it in the first photo), a 46-feet high free-standing arch.
What is incredible in Arches is that you can be sure that this unearthly landscape is keeping on changing, rain after rain, storm by storm: in 2008, the ancient and big Wall Arch fell down, after thousands of years of erosion.
In the park you can find also interesting and ancient Indian petroglyphs.
TIP. In Arches you can spend just 1 day or more and enjoy plenty of activities, from hiking to canyoneeering (in this case you need to hold a specific permit), rock climbing, camping under the stars. On the official website you can learn about what-to-do.
We did the most popular hike to the Delicate Arch, lasting about 3 hours with moderate difficulty: to reach the rock at sunset is a memorable experience. Remember to carry with you at least 2 bottle of water.
After the day we slept in Moab city, between Arches and our next destination.
Postcard 2: Canyonlands
PIC. First stop, a legendary viewpoint: the Deadhorse Point. The legend states that at the end of the XIX century the place was used as a corral for wild horses by local cowboy, that one time left them without water, causing them to die of thirst… Now this is a spectacular viewpoint where you can enjoy the view of Colorado river and Canyonlands (second pic).
Canyonlands is a martian lanscape of rocky architectures, divided into 4 districts by Colorado and Green River: Island in the sky, The Needles, The Maze, Orange Cliffs Unit.
TIP. The Canyonlands Park is so huge with more than 300.000 acres and the 4 districts above are not connected by direct roads, so you need to choose carefully what to see and to plan your trip if you don’t have plenty of time. We visited “Island in the sky”, the most accessible district, 16 km north of Moab. From the Grand View Point, in Island in the sky, you can enjoy a wide amazing landscape (first pic). Night in the Knights Inn in Cortez.
Postcard 3: Mesa Verde e Canyon de Chelley
PIC. “The sky overhead, the earth below, the mountains around. I stand in the middle place – at home” (Dr. Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo).
Think about a park having more than 5.000 archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings: this is Mesa Verde National Park, home to the Ancestral Pueblo people of Mesa Verde from 600 to 1.300 A.D., who built their rock villages on improbable canyon wells to seek protection, until they decided to leave the territory. We visited with a ranger’s tour Spruce Tree House, the third largest cliff dwelling (first pic): an incredible city of 130 rooms over the cliff, that had also religious places.
Canyon de Chelly is still home to Navajo Nation, who decided to live in the canyons to use the natural water sources and fertile soil for their crop plantations. In the second pic you can have an idea of the beautiful contrast between the red of the rocks and the green of the vegetation, everything under a stunning blue sky.
TIP. Remember that visiting a cliff dwelling in Mesa means to walk on high trails, climb on rope ladders, enter caves: nothing dangerous, but you need to be in shape and not to fear heights. In Canyon de Chelly, as in most of the parks in the REd Rock Country, you can also take a canyon tour.
Postcard 4: Monument Valley
PIC. Here we go. To drink a beer when the sun goes down, in front of the symbols of American West: West and East Mitten Buttes, in Monument Valley (first pic). You can barely know the name of John Ford, the famous film director whose western movies have been shot here, but this landscape is just the icon of Western World and of the Red Rock Country.
Once upon a time a lowland basin, then a plateau, the Valley has been shaped by wind and water, creating rocky towers from 400 to 1.000 feet; now it is a Tribal Park belonging to the Navajo Nation, together with Antelope Canyon, Four Corners and many more (you can read the list here).
In addition to the Buttes, the scenic drive has other 10 amazing stops (in the third photo you can see a total of… 6 sisters 🙂 ).
TIP. We have slept at Goulding’s Lodge, a scenic accomodation with also an RV park and campgrounds, but if you have an higher budget and want to experiment a real “full-immersion” you can also choose to sleep inside the park at The View Hotel (here you have cabins or also campgrounds). To explore the place, get up early, go to the Visitor’s Centre to stare at sunrise, take the map and enjoy the scenic drive (it will take from 2 to 4 hours).
… to be continued …