Today at the start of the second week of our holiday we were driving towards Southeast Utah which is part of the arid rocky expanse of the Colorado Plateau and is an area of land that is dissected by the immense canyons of the Colorado River and a high desert region that can experience wide temperature fluctuations, sometimes over forty degrees in a single day. Summer temperatures often exceed one hundred Fahrenheit, making the region a bit uncomfortable I imagine, so we were pleased to be here in October on a very pleasant sunny day with a big blue sky and a perfect temperature.
We were quite happy to be moving on from the city and after leaving Salt Lake we drove across the spectacular plateau towards our next National Park, Arches, which preserves over two thousand natural sandstone sculptures, including a variety of unique geological formations in addition to hundreds of natural arches and including the world famous Delicate Arch, which has become an iconic image of the American South West. The park is located in the east of Utah and is three hundred square kilometres in size and rises to its highest elevation of one thousand seven hundred metres at a place called Elephant Butte.
The sculptured rock scenery was truly awesome and there couldn’t have been a better day to enjoy it. The sandstone rocks blazed sulphur red under the strong morning sunlight and looked spectacular framed against the azure blue sky and the dusty ochre desert landscape.
As with all rock formations some of the sculptures had been named because of a close resemblance to something living and to be honest sometimes you have to have a vivid imagination, but here there was Sheep Rock, the Parade of Elephants and my personal favourite the Three Gossips. The Balancing Rock looked positively temporary, an oversized chunk of rock teetering precariously on what appeared to be a totally inadequate column of sandstone but as it has been there for thousands of years or so I suppose it was safe enough to pass by with some degree of confidence.
We stopped to get close at Turret Arch and Double Arch but the most famous were inaccessible by coach so we had to make do with enjoying the views of Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch from a distance and from a lookout point. Landscape Arch is the longest in the park, measuring ninety-five metres from base to base. And it is getting smaller because in 1991, a massive slab of rock fell from its underside resulting in an even thinner arch of rock; luckily no one was underneath at the time.
An interesting fact about the park is that this is where the opening scenes of the movie ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ was filmed when young Indie, as a boy scout, rescues the Cross of Coronado and becomes inspired to become an archaeologist adventurer.
Just outside the park entrance is the City of Moab on the Colorado River where we stopped for lunch at a featureless retail park consisting of outlet shopping stores and fast food diners. After a burger and a portion of fries Dad used the gents and goodness knows what he did in there but as soon as he came out an attendant urgently put up a facilities closed sign and there was a flurry of critical activity, we ribbed him about that and moved on quickly.
We looked around the shops and were happy to find a dollar store with an extensive stock of potential presents all costing no more than a dollar apiece. As this was still in the days when I was still impressed by free shower accessories Richard and I had been collecting the various lotions from the motels on the way and we pleased to find some nice little wicker baskets that were perfect for keeping them in and giving away as gifts for family and friends back home. Almost all of the stores were preparing for Halloween which was only a few days away and I managed to pick up a rather stylish tie with pumpkin faces which of course was a waste of money because I can only ever wear it for one day each year.
Leaving Moab the coach continued to Canyonlands National Park in the Rocky Mountains which is an inhospitable part of the State where few people live but where there are some of the worlds most extraordinary desert terrains and an endless panorama of high mountains and deep canyons that transverse the landscape.
We couldn’t see all of it of course, it is much too big, and we drove through the dramatic south east area called The Needles where there were ragged canyons created from seams of different coloured rock that resembled a giant chocolate layer cake. We stopped off to admire an especially picturesque section of the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado River that is over a thousand kilometres long flowing through parts of Wyoming, mainly through Utah, detouring for a while into neighbouring Colorado and finishing its journey by joining the Colorado River just south of Moab.
After the stunning scenery of the Canyonlands we started to travel south and east towards the State of Colorado on old US Highway 666. 666 of course is the sign of Satan so no surprise then that this route was predictably nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Highway’ and over the years this made all of the road signs a target for theft by souvenir hunters, devil worshippers and other strange people and although the road’s safety record was no worse than any other many motorists considered it unlucky, a sort of ‘Road to Hell’.
Because of the unfortunate number, the alleged accidents and other supposed phenomena being constantly repeated this became a bit of an urban myth and these legends convinced some people that the highway was really cursed. In 1993 the highway was renumbered 491 and within days of the announcement virtually every sign on the highway had been stolen, some appearing subsequently for sale on eBay. Today the Highway shows both the old and the new number and the authorities have sensibly made them harder to steal. The stores along the highway still use the old number however not least because of the continuing merchandising opportunities that this presents.
The glorious scenery was slipping away behind us now as we crossed into Colorado and into desert scrubland which looked of little use to anyone and no wonder therefore that the US Government had at sometime in the past generously gifted this land to Native Americans.
We passed into Montezuma County and home to most of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation, home of the Weeminuche Band of the Ute Nation, known as the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The land area is two thousand three hundred square kilometres but the population is only about one thousand six hundred people, which perhaps provides clues as to just how worthless the land is.
About half of Colorado is in the sparsely populated Rocky Mountains and most of the citizens live to the east of the mountains around Denver, the State capital. Cortez is a city in the west and the kindest thing to say is that it wouldn’t be on many people’s ‘absolutely must visit list’ if it wasn’t for the fact that it is close to the tourist attractions of Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners and Monument Valley. The motel was comfortable however and there were a few shops and bars and we contemplated a two night stay while we went through the ice routine and enjoyed a couple of cold beers before evening meal in a nearby boisterous bar/diner.
The postcard images were all originally purchased in 1995 on the Coach Trip. The Promotional leaflet images are also all 1995 originals.