Thursday: Day One
We left at 5:30 am and motored north on I-15 towards Barstow. There we stopped for breakfast then continued east on I-40 towards Needles where we crossed the Colorado river.
The Interstate starts to climb the Colorado Plateau at this point and by the time we reached Kingman, Arizona, we were on top of the plateau. We left I-40 at Kingman and continued eastward on old Route 66, stopping for lunch at Juan Delgadillo's Snow Cap, a funky little hamburger stand in Seligman that's been around for ages.
We continued east on Route 66 to Ash Fork, where we rejoined Interstate 40. We stopped in Williams, where, on the spur of the moment, I decided to detour north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The traffic was heavy, with the ubitquitos RVs lumbering slowly along the two lane route 64, and we arrived at the Yavapai point lookout at around 3pm. This was the first time I had actually visited the Grand Canyon, despite driving by it on dozens of prior trips to Arizona and New Mexico. It was awesome. Pictures, nor words, can actually describe it. You just have to see it.
We left the Grand Canyon and decided to avoid traffic by taking route 64 east instead of retracing our route back down 64 south to route 180 and Flagstaff. Traffic was heavy here also however, and we ran into some highway construction that AAA did not know about. At Cameron we headed south on US 89 towards Flagstaff, which was our original overnight destination before the detour to the Grand Canyon. I don't know why I didn't simply continue north on US 89 to Tuba City, since we would be going 120 miles out of our way to spend the night in Flagstaff, a town where we have always had trouble finding accomodations and meals. Flagstaff is an odd town.
We headed east again through southeastern Utah towards the Four Corners area where we rejoined US 160. From here it was a short drive to Cortez, Colorado, the gateway city to Mesa Verde National Park.
There is a Sonic Burger on the main drag, and it must have been Cruise Night when we pulled in because there was some nice looking iron on display. We had burgers and watched the beutifully restored cars come and go for an hour or so and then headed back to the motel.
To view some of the dwellings requires climbing a big ladder but we didn't say anyone who couldn't make the climb.
We managed to view and tour all of the cliff dwellings in a single day, and still had time to spend money in the gift shop. We bought some Navaho and Zuni art and then returned to Cortez for the night. We took the opportunity to cruise Cortez, and hang out at the local Sonic Burger, which was cruising headquarters in Cortez.
We headed west on US 666 towards Monticello, Utah, where we refueled and drew a small crowd around the Corvette. We continued north on US 191 towards Moab but decided to turn east on Utah 211 to view the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The impressive scenery starts well before you enter the park. The beautiful red rock which is so characteristic of this part of Utah and the Four Corners region is particularly impressive here.
We left the car and took a short hike at Big Spring Canyon Overlook (N 38° 10.9', W109° 49.9'). It was unmercifully hot, and the spray bottles we brought along to mist ourselves came in handy.
We arrived in Moab and found lodgings at a nice little motel right on US 191. Then we set out to find some food. We did not stop to eat breakfast or lunch in our eagerness to get to Canyonlands and we were famished.
We took a combined river rafting/four wheel drive tour of Canyonlands and were awestruck by the stark beauty of this place. They film a good number of motion pictures here, and we could see why. The latest one to be filmed here was Thelma and Louise. We rafted by the location where they take their final desperate plunge off a plunge into the Colorado river. A landmark visible for much of the trip is Dead Horse Point (N 38° 27.8', W 109° 44.5').
Periodically, the guide beached the raft and we hiked to some interesting places. One of these was an Anasazi petroglyph site. At another such stop we encountered deer browsing the foliage along the trail.
After lunch we boarded a decrepit four-wheel drive van from Tag-Along Tours and continued exploring the park by driving on some of the narrowest roads I have ever seen. The scenery was again awesome, and we stopped periodically to take photos. Jane and I stood on an arch that is frequently used for truck commercials. Below our feet is about 900 feet of air. Looking like Louis Leekey at Olduvai Gorge, I posed for a picture with the stunning Canyonlands scenery behind me.
We headed for Arches National Park early and were among the first people to enter the park. This was fortunate since the temperature climbed to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit under a cloudless sky and relentless sun.
There are separate "districts" in Arches National Park. We did not get to visit all of them but we did view three different type of arch.
We left Moab early and headed north on US 191 towards I-70. We then headed west towards Green River where we stopped for fuel and lunch. It turns out to be a very good thing that I refueled. We would need all the fuel we could get later that day.
The country between the US 191/I-70 junction and Green River is hauntingly stark. It is comprised mostly of lava beds and is desolate and unattractive. I drove faster than my normal 80mph in order to get to our next turn-off as quickly as possible, hoping that there would be a scenery change. We turned south on Utah 24 and passed along the San Rafael Reef. It is along this stretch of highway that we drive past the ugliest mountain range I have ever seen. There is absolutely no color to these rocks, unlike the rest of the Southwest, where the rocks are tinged colorfully with reds, greens, and browns. These mountains are a monochromatic gray.
After driving 45 miles without seeing so much as one other vehicle on this road we roared into the town of Hanskville. Jane warned me just in time about possible speed traps, and I slowed to a crawl just as we rounded a corner and saw a local cop parked next to the road with his radar microwaving us. He looked disappointed that he didn't nail me, and I find it positively incredible that he would sit there and wait for a lone car to come by. Remember, we did not see another vehicle the entire length of this road, and this is rare, even in the desert southwest. As a matter of fact, I am often suprised, and disappointed, when we drive what we think are remote highways, only to be held up by long lines of cars and RVs.
At Hanksville Utah 24 turns west and is joined by US 95 from the south. We were headed for Capitol Reef National Park and the town of Torrey beyond, where we planned to overnight. The scenery improved here, probably because the highway parallels the Fremont River. When we arrived at Capitol reef we discover that you cannot see anything of significance in the park without hiking. There are no road tours here. That's good, since it leaves uncrowded areas for the young and physically fit to explore. Reluctantly we continued on towards Torrey and our motel.
Checking into the motel began what became a frustrating odessey that would see us drive further looking for a motel room than we had driven all day up to this point. The rooms had just been renovated, and the smell of paint and new carpeting was overwhelming. There was no way we could have stayed in that room so we asked to be moved to the unrenovated part of the motel. It turned out that was not possible, so we threw our bags back into the Vette and headed for another motel. The only problem was, there were no other motels within a hundred miles. Jane got out the AAA tour book for Utah and searched for motels in the vacinity. We stopped at a tiny General store to use the pay phone to call for reservations (this was pre-Flip-Phone). After a lengthy search, Jane discovered that the only place with vacancies was the town of Panguitch, over 133 road miles away.
We headed south on Utah 12 for what turned out to be an odd journey. I was driving fast because I do like to drive after dark. The chances of striking an animal, and probably a rather large animal, are very good in this region of open ranges, and especially so after dark. But the scenery was positively gorgeous, and constantly changing.
We climbed and descended mountains and saw large numbers of deer grazing along the road. They were sometimes on the road, and I was thankful for the Corvette's big brake rotors, Bosch ABS, and Goodyear GS-C tires. With the sun rapidly setting, we thundered over one mountain range after another headed toward Bryce Canyon National Park. We passed through the towns of Boulder, Escalante, Henrieville, and Tropic before reaching Bryce Canyon. It was at this point that I was thankful I topped off the tank in Green River: we did not see a single gas station until we arrived in Panguitch. I have rarely been so glad to see a small town in my life as I am to see Panguitch.
Now began the hunt for a motel. There are a fair number of them in this town, but for the most part they are run down and sleazy looking. We found a place on the main drag that is clean and pleasant, and offered a small living room and kitchenette in addition to the bedroom.
We drove to Bryce Canyon but we did not stay long. Bryce is another National Park that requires hiking to see anything. Don't get me wrong, if we had the time on this trip, we would have rented horses and explored the backcountry. But with only one day left, we decided that we would be better off exploring elsewhere.
I headed south on US 89 toward the North Rim of the Grand canyon. The character of the terrain changed again from pine forest to sagebrush, then back to pine forest. We stopped for lunch in Mt. Carmel or Kanab (I can't remember which) then head south again for the North Rim. We encountered road construction on Arizona 67, south of Jacob Lake. We waited for about twenty minutes at a flag stop, waiting for the escort car to get to our side of the road work. We took the opportunity to walk around in the meadows that bordered the road.
Well before sunset, we arrived at the Grand Canyon Lodge with the intention of merely looking over the rim, having dinner at the lodge, and then heading back north on route 67 and going back towards St George, Utah. However, I asked Jane, on an impulse, to see if they had a vacancy for the night. Expressing doubt, Jane none-the-less headed off to the ornate lobby, while I waited in the Corvette with the engine running. After what seemed like a long time with no sign of Jane, I began to wonder whether she had managed the impossible.
I parked the car and headed into the lobby where Jane was in a spirited discussion with the desk clerk. She had gotten us a room for the night, and possibly the next night, due to cancellations. We would't find out until the next morning however, so we would have to pack our bags just in case.
We took the half-day mule trip half way down into the canyon. My mule's name was Brutus. He was near retirement and normally no longer made the full or even half day trips. He normally carried kids on the one-hour ride. But they where short on mules, and I am light, so they figured Brutus would survive.
Brutus moved at his own pace, irregardless of all the "giddiups" and "whoa boy"s that I tossed at him halfheartedly. Brutus moved when he wanted to, and he stopped when he wanted to, and that was that. I let him do whatever he wanted since I was depending on him to carry my ass out of the canyon. I sure didn't relish the idea of walking out. And falling was unthinkable.
The view from the North Rim is not quite as impressive as it is from the South Rim. This is because the number of places where you can get close to the edge are limited. However, it is still a sight to behold.
We headed north on routes 67 and US 89 to Fredonia, where we headed west on Arizona 389. We were headed towards the town of Hurricane, Utah, and then on to St. George, Utah, where we would pick up I-15 for the run south through Las Vegas and Barstow to home.
Since we had already toured Zion National Park on a previous trip, we passed up the chance to drive through it on the way home since it was well out of the way and our time was limited.
This part of Arizona is the most remote area of the state. The scenery is attractive however, and it wasn't long before we were back in Utah, at the town of Hurricane. Here, unbelievably, we got lost. The road through the town is poorly marked, and we zigged where we should have zagged.
Eventually we reached St. George, where we should have stopped for food and fuel, but we did not (my fault). We pounded southwestward on I-15 toward Las Vegas with the sun still high in the sky. Once again we passed through the impressive Virgin River Gorge in Arizona, and then crossed into Nevada at Mesquite, the quirky little gambling town. We stopped here to eat and refuel but for some reason we left without doing either.
After a seemingly endless drive, during which both of us had to pee, and with no rest stops open, we roared into Las Vegas and took the first off-ramp we found and screeched into a Texaco station. We almost knocked the attendent down getting the restroom key. The station is located next door to a large casino that had been closed down. I had no idea the gambling business was suffering through the recession too.
Back on the road again we finally arrived home just before dark.
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