Arches National Park and Monument Valley
Well, OK…Moab was a little strange….
I planned a rest day for us in Moab. It was the largest town on the loop we were doing. The timing for it worked well since we’d just spent nearly all day in the car and had another long day coming up.
We got to sleep-in our first morning in Moab -after getting up super early the last few days. That was nice. We had two missions today. The first was to explore the shops along the main street and the second was to find a replacement hydration system for my backpack. The old bladder had started leaking at Bryce Canyon.
Our hotel was located toward the North end of the main street. To me, it seemed like Moab didn’t quite know what it wanted to be when it grew up. We saw a real mix of older “tired” properties next to newer or more updated ones as we walked. The overall effect was visually very uninteresting to me. I didn’t take a lot of pictures in Moab. It felt like no one cared that much -if that makes sense. It probably didn’t help that they’d had a flash-flood in town only a few weeks before we were there and there was still some lingering signs of the damage. The people were nice and we felt safe/comfortable on the streets (day or night), but I wanted so badly to be charmed by Moab!
We walked down the street toward the few blocks that, to me, looked like it was probably the original “downtown” area before the sprawl started. Most of the tourist stores and restaurants were in these central few blocks. We enjoyed going in and out of the little gift shops we found. When the stores gave way to other types of businesses, we crossed the street and walked back the way we’d come, checking out the stores on that side.
There were several outdoors outfitter type stores that we stopped in to look for my hydration system. We found what I needed in the third store we checked. It was the closest one to our hotel (and the one I thought was least likely to have it).
I enjoyed the variety of wind spinners on display.
Tip #4 for visiting our National Parks: Just when you think you might have figured it all out -check again! (And read the small print!) Also don’t get locked in on the idea that a certain stop or location is only useful in the way you’d initially thought it would be. Just in case do a bit of extra research. You might be surprised. We missed the chance to do something fun in Moab because I had only considered our time there as a “do nothing” kind of day and didn’t even think to check out what else we could do there.
Moab is the gateway town for Arches National Park. When I was planning the trip, I wanted to see Arches, but found out that it is so popular that they’d instituted a timed-entry reservation system from April into October. Of course there weren’t any reservations available when I checked for the day we’d be there . BUT! That day at the hotel, for some reason I was looking at the information again and realized that the reservations ended at 5:00 PM and visitors could enter the park without one after that time.
Honey, we’re going to Arches!
We had an early dinner and then drove the few miles beyond town to the Arches entrance. We got there just a bit too early, so I suggested that we backtrack to the river, where I’d read there was a nice park. I’d also read that the river is the Colorado (which strangely I wasn’t aware of) and found out that I could have arranged a paddling excursion on the river if I’d only known. I would have loved that. We parked and walked over the river on an interesting pedestrian/bike path bridge. Moab is also well known for mountain biking and there are many trails to choose from, both paved and unpaved. The trail passing over this bridge led to the entrance road for Arches and beyond.
Historically, there was a network of trails in this region collectively called The Old Spanish Trail. The trail basically connected Santa Fe, NM to Los Angeles, CA. The different side trails linked up settlements in the regions between those two cities. It is now called the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. These trails were first used by Native Americans, then “discovered” in the late 1700’s by Spanish explorers. Later in the 1800’s the trail was used by explorers, trappers and traders. Mules were the main way of transporting anything along the trail. The trail fell into disuse in the mid-1800’s when horse-drawn freight wagons that could carry a lot more cargo arrived. The freight wagons needed better “roads” so new routes were developed.
Parts of the original trail can be visited in specific locations, but quite a bit of the trail is not accessible because it is on private land or tribal reserves. In some places the trail has been destroyed by development. The Spanish Trail came through the Moab area because it was the best location for crossing the Colorado River.
The bridge had some interesting decorations.
Paddlers coming in for a landing.
Back at the entrance road to Arches we realized we probably should have just stayed in line the first time. It ended up taking us about thirty minutes to actually get to the entrance station where I was ready to flash my Senior Parks card…but there wasn’t anyone in the booth. We were a bit confused, but decided that they must have closed the booth at 5:30 and we should just go in. We might have been making up our own rules, but didn’t know what else to do -there weren’t any signs helping us figure it out.
Sunset wasn’t far off. We had about an hour and 1/2 to try to see as much as we could. We had to drive into the park for nearly ten miles just to get to the first point of interest. This was definitely a situation for some “windshield photography” at its finest.
One of the famous points of interest in Arches is Balanced Rock. This formation is 128 feet tall and the rock weighs 3,600 pounds. Originally it was a stone outcrop, but the base below has been eroding over the years -so the rock will eventually fall- like Humpty Dumpty.
We did actually stop and get out of the car in an area called The Windows where we took a short walk to see -what else?- some arches.
Mike helpfully points out an arch!
There are several arches in this general area. The biggest one is creatively named “North Window”. It is huge.
It is a mile or so to walk the loop trail here. Getting closer! (We did get a bit closer than the picture below, but I thought this picture shows it the best.)
At North Window all we had to do was turn around and we cold see Turret Arch. Our walking path curved and led us closer.
As you can see by the people in the pictures, the arches are really big. After we followed the path to both of these arches, we arrived back at the parking lot. When we got there, we realized that there was a different convenient path leading to the Double Arch (also creatively named) that we could take instead of trying to move the car to a different parking lot.
This is different formation we saw as we were walking to Double Arch.
I thought it was really pretty -especially with the sunset lighting.
The most picturesque arch in Arches is called Delicate Arch. We were disappointed to realize that we probably weren’t going to beat the sunset to see it. It was about another 10 miles of driving further into the park and then a one mile round-trip hike for the best view. It’s the one that got away – but I did have a brochure picture of it.
As we drove out of Arches, I saw this formation that made me think of a group of people:
Very early the next morning, we were up and hitting the road again, heading to Monument Valley. Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Nation Reservation. The iconic scenery has appeared in quite a few movies -especially old westerns. For those who remember Forest Gump, Monument Valley is the place where Forest stopped running. Mike remembered seeing Monument Valley in old movies and this was a place that said “out West” to him. The problem with Monument Valley is that it was really far out in a direction that didn’t line up that great with the rest of the stops on our list, which is how we ended up in Moab. For some reason when I was researching it, I thought Monument Valley covered a big area, starting not far out of Moab. Well, it didn’t. Monument Valley was actually about 150 miles from Moab. The scenery getting there was OK, but not what I had imagined we’d be seeing.
Not far out of Moab we did see a nice arch. You can’t see too many arches, right?
Other pictures along the way:
One of the scenic attractions on the way to Monument Valley is Mexican Hat.
The rock formation is supposed to resemble a sombrero. Mike thought it looked like a rock balanced on another rock.
As we got closer to Monument Valley, we saw a formation and thought things were going to get interesting:
Not really -but here is the same one after we got closer!
And then finally… That’s it! We could see the familiar scene off in the distance.
As it turns out… not only was it “it” …it was ALL of it.
This is as close as I could get to the “Forest Gump” scene.
The actual spot where he stopped was just a bit further down the road, but we could see that it was a bit overcrowded there, so didn’t want to join to that circus.
The formations looked different from different angles.
And after only a few miles, Monument Valley was in the rear view mirror -or side mirror in the artsy picture Mike took.
This is the picture I took outside of the car at the same place.
All that driving for that! For people who want to explore it a bit more there is a Navajo Visitor’s Center there. They have an unpaved 17 mile loop going back into the formations that visitors can drive for a fee. Or visitors can opt to take a guided tour. We didn’t think that it would be a good idea to take a rental car out four-wheeling and didn’t have time to join a guided tour.
We still had another 130 miles to get to Page, Arizona -our stop for the night.
Tip #5 for visiting our National Parks: Don’t go out of your way to visit Monument Valley unless you’re already in the area or a really big fan of old movies. Or unless you have an interest in and time for exploring a few of the other somewhat remote sites in the area.
What surprised me today: The lack of monuments in Monument Valley.