A Travellerspoint blog

Utah Rocks!

Arches, Canyons, Petroglyphs and Dinosaur Bones

Hello, Everyone! I have finally finished this very long post about our travels in Utah. We've been moving so often it's been hard to find the time to write. And lately, we've been camping out of cell range, so it's sometimes impossible to upload this blog.

We've had a great summer exploring Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Currently we're camping in Estes Park, CO at the entrance to Rock Mountain National Park. I'm already working on my next article, so it won't be such a long time before you hear from me again. Anyway, I hope you enjoy hearing about our travels through Utah.

For years I've heard about how beautiful Utah is, and I've seen pictures, of course. But there is nothing quite like being here. The colorful rock walls and arches seem "other-worldly". We had a great time exploring the "Trail of the Ancients".

This story begins while we were camped just outside of Moab, UT.


Arches National Park - Friday, 4/28/17

It was a beautiful day, but too windy to fly. We decided to go into Moab for lunch and tour Arches afterward. Our friend Jim (Sky) King was with us. The park was not crowded this time of year so it was a perfect time to visit. Ours was mostly an auto tour, plus a few easy, level, short hikes.

This is one of the first scenic overlooks you reach after entering the park. This collective formation is called Park Avenue and there's a short path that goes through the valley to meet the road on the other side. Note the stairs in the foreground.

I think this was my favorite stop in Arches. Wish my knees would have let me take the hike, but we enjoyed the view nonetheless.


This formation is called Balanced Rock for obvious reasons.


All the formations are so HUGE! It's impossible to judge size without a reference, so I'm including this shot of Mike & Jim next to one of the formations:


This is called Turret Arch. I half-expected to see Fred Flintstone any minute. :D


This formation is called the North Window and South Window.


We were lucky that it wasn't crowded here. I was able to capture the North Window with just Mike (arms wide) and Jim in the shot.


This is Wolfe Ranch Cabin, an old homestead settled in 1888. Can you imagine living in a place like this?


This is just a random far-away ridge. It looked bright orange in the distance.


This is the Delicate Arch formation. There is a 1-mile trail up to it, but we weren't up for the hike. I was happy to be able to enjoy it from afar. If you look closely, you can barely see tiny people to the left of the arch.


Dead Horse Point State Park - Tuesday, 5/2/17

Dead Horse Point State Park was a beautiful place to have lunch. This scenery was some of my favorite in Southern Utah.


The light blue pools you see here are the solar evaporation ponds of a potash refinery. The bright blue dye is added to speed up evaporation. Potash is used as a plant fertilizer.


A panoramic view from Dead Horse Point State Park:


This is the same tower from two different points of view:


Trail of the Ancients

Evidence of prehistoric Native Americans is found all over the Four Corners region. We spent the month of May exploring cave dwellings and petroglyphs of our ancestral Pueblo people from Monument Valley to Mesa Verde National Park. Rock art can be seen along the walls of the Colorado River and its tributaries. You can drive right to one of these petroglyph sites on UT Highway 279.

Petroglyph Panel Along Colorado River/UT 279 - Wednesday, 5/3/17

Even though I'd seen many photos of ancient artwork, it was thrilling to see it with my own eyes. I learned that pictographs refer to painted artwork and petroglyphs are pecked or chiseled into the rock. Look closely. Each of these photos contains many individual figures. They were very high on this wall, so difficult to photograph.


Mill Canyon Dinosaur Bone Trail & Track Site - Wednesday, 5/3/17

As a child, I was fascinated by dinosaur bones. At Mill Canyon we had a chance to see some giant lizard footprints preserved in a prehistoric algae crust and some dinosaur bones preserved within a rock wall. The dinosaur tracks were just recently discovered in 2009. It was thrilling for me to see. Can you imagine the size of the lizards that left these footprints?


It was a hot, dusty hike to see the dinosaur tracks and I thought well worth the effort.


Next we drove up Mill Canyon to the Dinosaur Bone Trail. This hike was a little more difficult than the one to the Dino Tracks. Thank goodness for hiking poles!


It was fascinating to be able to see the bones so clearly within the canyon wall. Here is part of a humerus (upper arm):


These two photos are of vertebrae, or bones of the neck or back.


This is part of the shoulder blade and some ribs of a dinosaur. Can you see one of the ribs protruding from the rock?


This cavity is the void left from an ancient tree trunk. You can actually see the rings of the tree in the petrified wood left behind!


This photo shows the Twin Sisters at the end of Mill Canyon. It was a beautiful place. Hard to believe that it was once a very wet environment.


Also located here are the ruins of an old rest stop known as Halfway Station. In the late 1800s, it served as a rest stop for people making the 35-mile, 8-hour trek from Moab to the railroad station at Thompson, UT.


Canyonlands National Park - Island In The Sky - Thursday, 5/4/17

The next morning we drove to Canyonlands National Park. This national park is divided into 3 separate areas: Island in the Sky, Needles, and Maze. This day we visited the Island in the Sky. The Green and Colorado Rivers carved these canyons into the terrain. You can see one of the rivers in these photos.

See the White Rim around the top of the canyons? There is a 100-mile road around this rim which is very popular with mountain-bike riders and 4-wheel-drive campers. The views must be fantastic from down there. We weren't quite that adventurous, and enjoyed the views from up top.


We took the very short and easy hike to see Mesa Arch. It turned out to be a view that I recognized from other photos. I've decided it's one of my favorite arches. A kind Frenchman volunteered to take a photo of us here.


This photo is of me framing the following photo:


I think this is the money shot!


On Monday, May 8, we headed south from Moab planning to stay in a dispersed camping area we found near Blanding, UT. When we arrived at the turnoff, we made the mistake of not scouting the campsite first with our car before taking the rig down a one-lane dirt road. We'll never do THAT again!


The red dirt became deep, loose sand and we almost got stuck several times! Luckily, we came upon a wide-enough spot in the road where we could detach our tow car and turn the rig around. Lesson learned. Now, we ALWAYS scout for new campsites with our car first before committing to drive the RV in. :P

It was getting late and we just wanted to find a place to sleep. We drove back to Blanding and were able to sharpen our urban boondocking skills.

To be successful at urban boondocking, you need to arrive at your night spot in late evening and move to your day spot early in the morning. We found a level night spot behind an abandoned restaurant and spent 3 quiet nights there. Early each morning, we'd move our rig to a side street to have breakfast and plan our outing for the day.

Blanding was in a great location from which to explore Natural Bridges and Bear's Ears National Monuments.

Mule Canyon Ruins - Wednesday, 5/10/17

One day, we took a drive to Natural Bridges National Monument. On the way, we came across the Mule Canyon Ruins. These ruins were so well preserved and close to UT-95 that it was selected for development as an interpretive rest stop. This was the first of many ancestral ruins we were to see on the Trail of the Ancients and every bit as interesting as some of the preserved pit houses we saw at Mesa Verde National Park. Here we had the place all to ourselves!

This ancestral site includes a restored below-ground kiva and the remains of an L-shaped block of 12 rooms. The kiva would have had a mud-covered roof with an opening and ladder for access from above.. The rooms may have housed 2 or 3 families which were connected to the ceremonial kiva by an underground tunnel.


The first of these photos shows the kiva's fireplace and the second shows the opposite side of the kiva. The vertical rock in front of the fireplace was used to deflect the heat around the kiva.


Natural Bridges National Monument - Wednesday, 5/10/17

After our tour of Mule Canyon Ruins, we continued toward Natural Bridges National Monument. Bridge View Drive is a short, very scenic loop. There are three main bridges in this national monument. The first of these is Sipapu Bridge. The bridge is difficult to see in this photo, but it is just to the left of the rock formation near the center of the photo. You can see green trees growing beneath it.


This is the Kachina Bridge. The following photo includes a panoramic view of the canyon in which it was formed. Spectacular!


And this is the Owachomo Bridge, right in the center of this photo.


On the way back from Natural Bridges, we had to document this part of the road. The notch cut in this massive ridge for UT-95 was impressive. Driving between the thick towering rock walls was slightly intimidating. Watch out for Falling Rock!


Bears Ears National Monument - Wednesday, 5/10/17

The Bears Ears National Monument is enormous. It surrounds Natural Bridges National Monument and Valley Of The Gods, is adjacent to Canyonlands National Park on two sides and extends from Moab to Mexican Hat, UT. Its most identifying feature, and the inspiration for its name, are the twin buttes you see here.


I didn't think the buttes looked very much like bears ears at all. I learned that they are supposed to represent Changing-Bear-Maiden's ears which had been cut off by her Navajo brothers so she could change into another form. Oh, okay...

The Bears Ears have been important landmarks for centuries in the Four Corners region. They can be seen from as far east as Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and as far south as Monument Valley Tribal Park in Arizona. Locals are divided about whether Bears Ears should remain a National Monument, though. Some Blanding residents were displaying "#RescindBearsEars" and "#NoMonument" banners while we were there.

Sand Island Campground with Petroglyphs- Thursday, 5/11/17

We headed south from Blanding on Thursday, 5/11. We got as far as Mexican Hat, scouting several BLM campsites along the way. The dispersed campsites we explored were either unacceptable or inaccessible to our 30 ft. rig. We didn't want to go further south, so we decided to turn back toward Blanding. Just west of Bluff, UT, we found our next front yard at Sand Island Campground.


Sand Island Boat Launch and Campground is on the San Juan River. It's a very popular launch for river rafters and is a great place to camp. The sites are large and private. The petroglyph panel was particularly interesting to us. The entire red wall you see here was covered in ancient artwork. It was neat to be able to walk from our campsite to explore the panel.


Hovenweep National Monument - Saturday, 5/13/17

While we were staying at Sand Island, we took a day trip to visit the Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument. Thank you for the recommendation, Sue! We thoroughly enjoyed seeing these ruins and it was a great time of the year to visit. The park was not crowded, temperatures were mild and spring in the desert was in full bloom.


These buildings were constructed more than 700 years ago. Across the canyon you can see the Twin Towers and Rimrock House on the rim. Below the rim there is an Eroded Boulder House with a bright roof. The structure in the foreground of this photo is described as a Unit Type House, probably used as a family dwelling.


These next two photos were taken from the Tower Point, looking down Little Ruin Canyon. You can see the Eroded Boulder House, Twin Towers and Rim Rock House from a different perspective. The Twin Towers are aligned perfectly and look like one tower instead of two. Just below the Towers, the Eroded Boulder House looks like a mushroom.


This photo shows the Square Tower in the canyon, Hovenweep House on the rim across the canyon and Hovenweep Castle in the foreground.


Here's a couple more photos of Hovenweep Castle, the largest of all the structures:


Spring in the desert; what a great time to be here!


Monument Valley - Sunday, 5/21/17

We couldn't leave this area without taking the drive to Monument Valley. I couldn't decide which of these photos I liked best...


Mike & I had been to a PPG fly-in at Monument Valley in October 2010. I found an old photo of our campsite then. It was fun reminiscing about camping in our van. We stopped and had lunch there again.


Mesa Verde National Park - Monday, 5/22/17

On Monday, we moved to Moreland Campground inside Mesa Verde National Park, home of the famous Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. The campground was almost empty and the campsites are huge! We were able to choose any campsite we wanted. We scouted around and were able to find one of the only sites with cell service. I'm always in a better mood with internet access. :) By Memorial Day weekend, the campground was packed.


We were lucky to be able to explore the park during the week before the massive Memorial Day crowds arrived. We took our first short drive just before sunset and the views took our breath away. This massive ridge is called The Knife Edge.


The first cliff dwelling we saw was the Square Tower House. Residents accessed these dwellings via hand-and-toe holds carved into the cliff face and ropes and ladders.


Here are the preserved remains of a pit house and several pueblo dwellings.


These images are two halves of the same ridge. These ruins are called the Fire Temple. Experts suspect these structures were used for ceremonial purposes.


This is the famous Cliff Palace. Incredible to see in person.


This is the Spruce Tree House.


Once you learn what to look for, you begin to spot small ruins under many other canyon ledges.These ruins are near the Spruce Tree House. They were not labeled, and it would have been easy to miss them.


This is Cedar Tree Tower.


These next photos are of Far View Community. This was once one of the most densely populated areas of Mesa Verde. Experts estimate these buildings were constructed around 800 AD, centuries before the famous cliff dwellings were built.


Back To Sand Island Campground - Wednesday, 5/31/17

Many of the more popular ruins at Mesa Verde had been swept clean and restored. We were more interested in seeing ancestral ruins that had not been altered. We heard there were several unimproved ruins near Sand Island Campground, so we returned to Bluff, UT for a few days. This time we were lucky enough to get a primo campsite right on San Juan River at Sand Island.


During one of our excursions, I spotted a cave dwelling just west of Bluff on the north side of UT-162. The next day, we packed a picnic lunch and set out to visit it.


Spring was turning into summer and temperatures had begun to rise in Southern Utah. One day the river breeze just wasn't enough to cool us down and we were thankful our generator had been serviced in Reno. Imagine our disappointment and frustration when the generator did NOT start, again!

What could be wrong with it? The generator had been running perfectly when we left Reno.

Mike deduced the problem could be a bad fuel pump. He called around and found the part we needed at a Cummins dealer in Salt Lake City. The next day was Friday and the Cummins dealer was closed on the weekend. If we wanted to be able to have air conditioning without being plugged in, we had no choice but to make the 7-hour drive to SLC on Friday.

Salt Lake City - Friday, 6/2/17

We arrived at the Cummins dealer after a long day of driving and picked up the new fuel pump. As we were leaving the parking lot, we heard a strange clunk from the rear of the RV. Our tow bar had broken! So glad there was no traffic and no one got hurt! Luckily we were in a large city and the local RV superstore had the exact replacement we needed in stock.


I hadn't expected to be in Salt Lake City and hadn't researched any places to camp, so we stayed at Camping World the first night and Cracker Barrel the second night.


It was hot and uncomfortable without air conditioning, so we checked into the Pony Express RV Resort and enjoyed having full hookups while Mike worked on our generator.The Pony Express RV Resort is centrally located in SLC. The pool & facilities are nice and clean. Compared to other RV parks in the area, this is definitely the nicest one.


Our good friends Jerry & Becky stayed next to us for a few days on their way up to Montana. They gave us the grand tour of their new-to-them Monaco Cayman named Nautilus. We had a good time catching up. It was a treat to meet "on the road".


Mike installed the new fuel pump in the generator and.... it still would not run. What the heck?!

Mike finally found the answer online in the Lazy Daze Owners forum. He found an air leak in the fuel line from the gas tank to the generator. After that short fuel line was replaced, the generator ran like a top! Hallelujah!

We took advantage of being in a big city to have some preventive maintenance done on Sara. On Wednesday morning, it was finally time to head north!

Crystal Hot Springs - Wednesday, 6/14/17

It was a relief to leave the big city behind. Our last stop in stop in Utah was at a cute little campground in Honeyville. Crystal Hot Springs is a mineral-hot-spring water park with 3 hot tubs, a soaker pool, an Olympic pool, two water slides and a campground. The campsites are in a beautiful, park-like setting.


There is a cold spring that surfaces here less than 50 ft. from the mineral hot spring. Both springs feed the pools and hot tubs. We took advantage of the hot tubs and that mineral water does feel incredible! We would definitely stay here again.

And that, my friends, is the end of this episode. Next time I'll tell you about our adventures in Idaho. Neither Mike nor I had ever been to Idaho and we were amazed by the beauty surrounding us there!

Here's a map showing our route through Utah:

If you're interested in following along with us, please subscribe to Our Permanent Vacation by clicking this "Subscribe" link. Until next time!

Posted by DillyLynn 06:58 Archived in USA

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Super narration Delia !!! Y'all have fun!

by Dennis White

The incredible beauty of the surrounding area is one of the reasons we moved to Henderson.
I'm so happy for you guys making your discoveries.

by Craig Carrell

Thanks, Uncle!

by DillyLynn

So much fun to read and your photographs are fantastic. Keep enjoying your travels. We are enjoyoing your blog.

by Ann and Mike McClure

great job on the story and the pic's can't wait to see you guy's in New Mexico safe travel's!

Bob and Julie

by Julie Dille

Thanks for the enjoyable read and great photos!

by balhannahrise

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