Ultimate Utah, Day 6:  Blanding, UT to Torrey, UT

After a stop for fuel, we departed Blanding this morning and headed west on UT-95, another road marked on our AAA map as a scenic highway.  Though we've found that designation misapplied on some of their maps, this one turned out to be an understatement.

Our first stop was Natural Bridges National Monument, just 40 miles away.  The park sits high atop Cedar Mesa at 6,500 ft above sea level.  Over many millennia, intermittent streams have cut two deep canyons in sandstone formed from the shore of an ancient sea.  The erosive action of the water also created three natural bridges.  With a full agenda and more than 200 miles to go today, we opted against hiking to any of the bridges and only viewed them from the overlooks.  In the interest of full disclosure, temps in the low 40s, bone-chilling wind and drizzling rain might have also played a part in that decision.
Sipapu Bridge
Sipapu Bridge is believed to be the second largest natural bridge in the world.  The largest is nearby Rainbow Bridge, itself a national monument, which is located in a remote area accessible by an 8-hour boat ride or a 14-hour (one-way) hike.
Kachina Bridge
Kachina Bridge is the youngest of the three in the Natural Bridges park.  Thus its opening is relatively small.  It is named for rock art symbols that resemble kachina dolls.
Owachomo Bridge
Owachomo Bridge is the oldest and is no longer being eroded by moving water though frost and seeping water continue to have an effect.  Scientists believe the bridge may have a fatal crack.  Only time will tell.
Bears Ears Buttes
On the approach road to Natural Bridges, we had seen a sign indicating "Bears Ears 6 miles".   Bears Ears are the two prominent buttes in the distance in the above photo.  Several Native American groups consider this area sacred and include it in their oral traditions.  Peaking at 9,000 feet, the buttes can be seen from as far east as Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and as far south as Monument Valley in Arizona.  For centuries, Bears Ears have served as important landmarks for travel within what we now call the Four Corners region.
The left Bears Ear
In response to appeals from local conservationists and native tribes, President Obama designated Bears Ears a national monument in one of his last executive orders while in office.  As has been widely reported recently, Bears Ears is one of many public land treasures that President Trump is considering curbing protection of by revoking their designations as national monuments.  We decided to go check out the ears before they lose their status.
The road to Bears Ears
The road to Bears Ears turned out to be a bit more treacherous than we expected, so what we thought would be a ten-minute detour took quite a bit longer.  However, we were well rewarded when we reached the top with a close up view of the two ears.  We decided to plant a letterbox there, and while we were preparing it, a twenty-something long-haired New Yorker showed up in his camper pickup.
"What is there to see?" he asked, and we pointed out the location of each of the ears.  The next thing we knew, he had taken off walking up the hill toward the left ear.  The last time we saw him before we left, he was at the base of the rocky peak trying to figure out how to climb higher—with no gear, no water, no apparent plan.  We're hoping we don't hear any news reports about someone falling from Bears Ears.
Before leaving the area we found a 2008 letterbox off the road to Natural Bridges that was planted by a couple from Pensacola.  Inside the logbook was a note from a finder who said she had been letterboxing for 36 years.  Since the hobby didn't start in the U.S. until 1998, we were struggling to make the math work until we noticed that she was from England, where letterboxing began in the 19th century.
We continued northwest on UT-95 through the stunning White Canyon and into the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and around the mostly dry north end of Lake Powell, treated to one picturesque scene after another.  The mind could hardly comprehend the panoramic richness the eyes were seeing.  When we reached the turnoff to Ticaboo and Bullfrog, we actually breathed a sigh of relief, exclaiming in near unison, "Finally!  Some ordinary scenery."  Of course, what we were seeing would never pass for mundane anywhere but Utah.
Goblin Valley
In Hanksville, we turned east on UT-24 for a side trip to Goblin Valley State Park, where the forces of nature have sculpted sandstone "goblins" on the floor of a desert valley surrounded by eroded cliffs.  We arrived on an extremely blustery day in the park.  We just thought we had seen wind at Grand Canyon.  With gusts of 45 to 50 mph, it was difficult at times to remain upright and the blowing dust made breathing a challenge.
Ken in the gnome home
Luckily these desert gnomes were so appealing that visitors were willing to forge ahead down the rough-hewn stairs into the valley for close encounters with these fanciful formations.  We left the park at 5:30 with 76 miles to our hotel near Capitol Reef National Park.

Not to belabor a point, but the scenery along UT-24 on the way to the park was even more dramatically majestic than what we had already seen today.  We can't wait until tomorrow when we'll have better light and can see more of the Capitol Reef area.


    •  Started in:  Blanding, UT
    •  Ended in:  Torrey, UT
    •  Miles driven:  277   (total 2,702)
    •  Weather:  42° to 56°, clear to partly cloudy
    •  Letterboxes:  Found 4, Planted 1   (total:  F14, P5)
    •  Walked:  3.11   (total 23.92)
    •  Gas:  12.3 gal @ $2.689   (total 26.4 gal @$2.559 average price)
    •  Oohs:  127
    •  Ahs:  241
    •  Wows:  879
    •  Look at that!:  536

Loved:  We've come to enjoy naming rock formations based on their shapes—turtle head, mushroom, lion, boneyard, dragon, castle, temple, etc.  When we see a sign designating a landform with the same name we gave it, it's just a bonus.

Lacking:  Again we were disappointed with the lack of pullouts for scenic overviews.  But realistically there are so many breathtaking vistas along the route, the only way to accommodate sightseers would be an extra lane in both directions just for rubberneckers.

Learned:  Having heard the terms 'arch' and 'natural bridge' used for stone features which looked the same, we thought the terms were interchangeable.  Until we visited Natural Bridges National Monument today.  There we learned that natural bridges are formed by the erosive action of moving water.  Arches are created by other erosional forces, mainly frost action and seeping water.

More Photos from Today

View driving down from Bears Ears 
Do you see Jacob's Chair?
Hite Crossing Bridge over the Colorado River 

Dirty Devil River

Cleverly named store in Hanksville 
Colorado River flowing through the lake bed at a Lake Powell overlook 
Three Sisters of Goblin Valley State Park

Ultimate Utah, Day 5:  Monticello, UT to Blanding, UT

Having visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in 2012, we are skipping the Moab area on this trip.  However, we couldn't resist checking out the Needles District of Canyonlands, some 75 miles south of the area we saw around Moab.  We set out north on US-191 from Monticello this morning and turned west on Utah-211.  At the intersection we saw what is known locally as Church Rock.  
What appears to be a small opening at the bottom is actually 16 x 24 feet.
A 200-ft. solitary sandstone formation, Church Rock got its name from a misconception that a nearby religious commune intended to hollow it out to create a house of worship.  In reality, the property is owned by descendants of a local rancher who, in the 1940s, had a recess dynamited out of the bottom of the monolith to store salt licks and feed for his cattle.
Petroglyphs are created by scratching or carving into a rock surface; pictographs are painted onto the rock.
Midway to Canyonlands on UT-211, we stopped at Newspaper Rock Archaeological Site, a petroglyph panel etched in sandstone. Presumably, it was named by someone who thought that ancient peoples posted news on the rock. Signage at the location indicates that scholars have been unable to interpret the meaning of the figures, but the carvings are believed to represent different cultures and eras. Unfortunately that includes modern era in the form of graffiti. A more respectful relic we found from today's world was a letterbox hidden nearby but well away from the historic rock.
Another 18 miles on 211 took us to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  But even before we reached the park, the roadside was lined with majestic rust colored buttes that soared above the surrounding landscape like Greek temples.
Once we entered the park and checked in at the visitor center, we took advantage of some short hikes off the scenic drive.  A short stroll on the Roadside Ruin Trail took us to an Anasazi granary built of rock and mud into a high alcove in the sandstone.  Ladders were used to access these food storage facilities.
Cave Spring Trail
An area used by early natives and later by cowboys has been developed as the Cave Spring Trail.  As might be expected, the path passes by Cave Spring, a rare year-round source of water.  Inside a nearby alcove were remnants of a cowboy camp with a kitchen and open-air bunkhouse. In other recesses, evidence of earlier human use include pictographs and smoke-blackened ceiling. Although just six-tenths of a mile, the trail features two ladders which take hikers to a higher level atop rocks for better views of the area.
Once at the top of the first ladder, one has to hop from one large rock to another nearby.  Knowing my  propensity for stumbling, I decided it wise to skip this part of the trail.  As we were turning back, a family with a spunky little cowboy and backpack-riding toddler approached the ladder.  Like me, 3-year-old Arlo was reluctant to scale to the top also, but with lots of encouragement from his parents, he made the climb and when he reached the top, a huge grin of pride split his face.  A little panic returned when he realized he somehow needed to get to the next rock, but Mom passed him from one rock to Dad on the other, and off they went to continue their adventure.  
We returned to the scenic drive.  At its end, we stopped at the overlook for Big Spring Canyon, which offered trailheads for longer hikes, expansive views and the opportunity to get up close with some of the park's colorful Navajo sandstone formations.
Before we departed, there was one more short trail that we wanted to check out.  Pothole Point Trail afforded the opportunity to study naturally occurring sandstone basins called "potholes."  As collectors of rain water and wind-blown sediment, these ephemeral pools (dry today) host tiny ecosystems with a surprising variety of plant and animal life.  The trail also offered distant views of the Needles formations which give this section of the park its name.
To get a closer look at the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa sandstone that dominate the area requires a long day hike or a challenging 4-wheel drive trek.  Even if we'd had such a vehicle, we would have thought long and hard after the advice the park offers regarding their four-wheel-drive roads:  "Drive carefully.  The risk of vehicle damage is great, and towing expenses typically exceed $1,000."  We decided we could wait for Bryce Canyon's more accessible opportunities to get up close and personal with sandstone columns.

After planting a Love This Park letterbox just outside the park boundary, we returned to US-191 and drove north a few miles to the turnoff for the Needles Overlook, thinking from the name that we might get a view of the needles formations.   Though it is not a part of the park and doesn't overlook the needles, the BLM site offers an excellent vantage point over the canyons of Canyonlands National Park.
From a stony peninsula, one has panoramic views to the north, west and south, taking in Indian Creek Canyon, 11,000-ft peaks of the Henry Mountains more than 60 miles away, and the Colorado River Gorge that forms the heart of Canyonlands.  We found the views as inspiring as some we saw in the northern part of the park on our last visit but not nearly as crowded.
As we returned to Route 191 and drove south to our overnight stop in Blanding, we continued to marvel at the stunning geological formations that Utah has in such abundance.  The Needles section of Canyonlands National Park has considerable more diversity in landforms than the district accessed from Moab.  We were glad we decided to check it out, even though we "had already visited Canyonlands."  Tomorrow we'll take UT-95, another scenic road (aren't all roads in Utah scenic??), west to Capitol Reef National Park, another of Utah's "Big Five" national parks.


    •  Started in:  Monticello, UT
    •  Ended in:  Blanding, UT
    •  Miles driven:  208   (total 2,425) 
    •  Weather:  32° to 60°, sunny to partly cloudy
    •  Letterboxes:  Found 2, Planted 1   (total:  F10, P4) 
    •  Walked:  4.25 mi  (total 20.81)
    •  Spires:  8,235
    •  Buttes:  378 
    •  Balanced Rocks:  12 
    •  Mushroom Rocks:  201
    •  Potholes:  826
    •  Brave little boys:  1
    •  Wary old women:  1

Loved:  We thought it was an odd name when we saw a reference on the park map for the Wooden Shoe Arch overlook.  It all made sense when we saw it, and we had a great laugh.  

Lacking:  Agility (and courage?) to hike a trail over elevated rocks

Learned:  Open range livestock aren't nearly the hazard one would expect.  We've driven through many areas with warning signs about unfenced cattle and have seen hundreds roadside.  Only rarely do we see any in the road, and those along the shoulder are cautious about oncoming cars.  And even though we've all heard about the cow that jumped over the moon, these lumbering beasts aren't as likely to leap in front of a car as deer are.

More Photos from Today
We found the letterbox more impressive than the actual Newspaper Rock.  No graffiti here!
Relics from an old cowboy camp on the Cave Spring Trail.  Soot gives away the location of the stove.
Ken checks out the Cave Spring.
More of Canyonlands' Glory