Travel Day - Monument Valley and Blanding

Agaltha Peak just north of Kayenta Arizona

We had considered two options for where we would go for the rest of the trip after Grand Canyon. Since it was early in the season we figured that if there was bad weather we would head south to Sedona. If the weather was nice we would head north to explore the southeast corner of Utah. Now we had to decide. The weather forecast was certainly good. The rest of the week looked like clear skies with temerperatures in the fifties and sixties. But we weren't sure just how long the snow from the weekend would last. After we finished our hike on the Rim Trail at Grand Canyon I did call Natural Bridges National Monument and talked to a ranger. He said that they had received four inches of snow from the weekend storm but that most of the trails were clear already. That sounded good enough and we decided to head north to explore some new territory. It was easier anyway. Since US89 was closed we would have to detour out of our way going home just as we had coming down. But if we were going to southeastern Utah that was exactly the way we needed to go. It was the best choice all around.

I think someone is trying to tell us something

Although our hotel in Grand Canyon National was nice it did not include breakfast. That was a pretty big sacrifice for Sandy to make as she is a serious breakfast person. The cafeteria there wasn't that good either so we just packed up and hit the road. It was only an hour to Tuba City where we stopped at a Denny's. Tuba City is really in the middle of nowhere. There aren't any towns for over 50 miles in any direction. But it has a Denny's and a McDonald's. A true outpost of civilization in the middle of the desert.

Properly fortified after eating breakfast/lunch we continued on. After the turnoff for our detour of the day before we were heading northeast on a new route for both of us. We got gas in Kayenta, another not-the-end-of-the-earth-but-you-can-see-it-from-there town. At Kayenta the road turned straight north into Utah and passed through the edge of Monument Valley. Leaving Kayenta we drove right past the prominent spire of Agathla Peak. It is an impressive 1400 foot rock spire that is the eroded plug of an ancient volcano. It was clearly a technical climb - I didn't see an easy side. Further along we passed through desert with the isolated rock spires and buttes characteristic of Monument Valley. The main part of the valley was to the east while we continued on into Utah. There were pretty cool views from the highway though and I stopped to take enough pictures along the way that Sandy started to get irritated with me.

Pueblo ruins at Edge of the Cedars State Park

Our destination for the day was Blanding, a small town in Utah. But I took a slight detour to drive across Cedar Mesa. It's a large mesa that is cut by many steep canyons, the largest and most famous being Grand Gulch. Although the hiking has a great reputation it is quite remote so it doesn't get much trail traffic. I at least wanted to drive across Cedar Mesa and stop at the BLM Ranger station at Kane Gulch. This would give us a chance to see for ourselves whether there was any snow still around.

As we drove toward the escarpment that marked the edge of Cedar Mesa there was a sign that said "pavement ends in three miles". This got me a WTF look from Sandy. I wondered about it myself since we weren't on some side road but a state highway, Utah 261. But as we reached the cliffs the road turned to dirt. At least it was a good dirt road. It was only about three miles till the road topped out on the mesa and the pavement started again. Apparently the side of the mesa is too unstable for a paved road. We made it though and eventually reached the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Although it was closed (it's only open in the morning) it gave us a chance to check things out. The hike that we had planned for the next day left from the ranger station. And it was clear that snow would not be a problem.

Sandy climbs down into a kiva

The drive to Blanding was kind of a tweener. It wasn't so long that it took the entire day. But it was long enough that I couldn't find a good short hike that we could do along the way. It was difficult since I had never been in the area before. But that's the nature of exploring a new area. When we reached Blanding there wasn't much there but at least there was a Super 8 Motel. We had made a reservation the day before. It turns out we probably needn't have worried. The place was only a quarter full. It was still early season after all.

As we came into town we noticed a sign for Edge of the Cedars State Park. We looked it up on the web and saw that there was a museum and some ancient pueblo indian ruins. We had some time to kill so we went to check it out. When we got there we were the only car in the parking lot. We definitely didn't have to fight the crowds. The museum was very interesting. It had a lot of exhibits of the ancient indian civilizations of the southwest. And out in back there was an ancient pueblo indian settlement that had been restored. We even got to climb down into one of the kivas, a large circular stone pit that was used for grain storage and religious ceremonies. The ruins were about a thousand years old and both the ruins and the museum were very impressive. An unexpected find.

Sandy inside an ancient pueblan kiva

After the museum we went for dinner. It was easy to choose. Other than Subway and A&W, Blanding only had one restaurant, the Homestead Steak house. But it had it all - pizza, pasta, steak, fish, burgers. It was a mile from our hotel but since we hadn't done a hike during the day we walked to dinner. Our meal was good and since we walked we didn't feel quite so guilty for eating a lot.

When we got back to our hotel I set to work on doing a post on our travels. But when I tried to upload some pictures to my website I found out that the internet access at our hotel was incredibly slow. It took over four hours to upload ten pictures. As the old joke goes, "Welcome to Utah, set your watch back one hundred years". For the rest of the trip it gave me a good excuse to not have to hustle every night to try to post for the day's activities. I would just do it when I got home. That's why these posts are coming a week later!

The forecast was excellent. We had a hike in Grand Gulch picked out. After an easy travel day we were psyched for a good hike.