Monday, August 13, 2018

Cross Country Adventure - Day 12 - Moab to Flagstaff, AZ

Day 12 was another day on the road, driving from Moab, Utah to Flagstaff, Arizona. Fortunately, there was plenty to see on the way to give us an excuse to get out of the car at regular intervals.

First stop was just south of Moab for a quick photo opportunity at Wilson Arch which looms over the west side of US Route 191 and which we thought rivaled many of the arches in Arches National Park.

A little further south and the landscape flattened, the mountains almost mirages in the distance. We were definitely in the desert.

An hour later, just north of the town of Bluff, we were treated to the sight of spectacular sandstone rock formations appropriately called bluffs. 

Bluff is a very small town, but a popular tourist destination given it's closeness to Bears Ears and Monument Valley. Twin Rocks Trading Post, a cafe and gift shop, which appears to be built into the rocks, seems to be designed to cater for bus tours.  Luckily, as we arrived, a coach full of tourists was just leaving.

Twin Rocks Trading Post

Bluff was originally founded in 1880 by Mormon settlers. For protection they built their cabins around a courtyard, with the entrance to the cabins facing inwards and the spaces between them linked with log fencing, in effect creating a fort. Fort Bluff Historic Site  is a representation of what the community would have looked like. 

Each cabin contains the original furnishings and belongings of one of the settler families, the items donated by their descendants.  Photos and short histories provide a background to each of the families which gives the displays much more historical impact. 

Some of the settlers were lucky enough to make the journey in horse-drawn wagons.

While others made do with hand-pulled versions! It's almost impossible to believe they could survive such an arduous trek pulling their belongings. 

The courage and fortitude of the original settlers is honored by a memorial which not only tells of the journey they made, but also lists all the members of each family involved. There were lots of children!

When we discovered that all the local restaurants apart from Twin Rocks Trading Post were closed due to it being Monday, we decided to drive on before stopping for lunch. That almost proved to be a mistake. We drove through miles and miles of desert with very few signs of habitation. Finally, after we crossed the border into Arizona we came to Mexican Water Trading Post which consisted of a service station/store, a restaurant and a very large laundry!

Curiosity got the better  of me and I went to check out the laundry. It was open but nobody was using it. I can only imagine they must get a lot of campers and RV's coming through to make it worthwhile. If we had been a little more organized we could have done our laundry while we were having lunch!

Mexican Water Trading Post is in land designated as the Navajo Nation, a reservation which covers 27,000 square miles of mostly desert landscape. The largest community in the nation is Tuba City. The city is home to the Navajo Interactive Museum which offers a fascinating introduction to the history, culture, language, and life of the Navajo people. 

In a separate building opposite is an exhibit devoted to the World War II Code Talkers. When the Japanese managed to crack the secret codes the U.S. was using, the military needed to find an alternative. A small group of bilingual Navajo servicemen used codes based on their native language to send secret communications which helped the U.S. defeat the Japanese. 

After our dose of history, it was time to get back on the road, this time through desert canyons. We were amazed time and again to see random houses miles from anywhere. What brought people to live in such isolated places, we wondered? 

Every so often we would pass abandoned motels, gas stations or restaurants, the Interstates presumably having diverted business away from the once tiny towns.

Two hours later we finally arrived in Flagstaff, a town with a lot of old world charm, including the Weatherford Hotel, a 1900 landmark. 

Several large murals adorn the walls of the town center, including this one by Ricco diStefano.

The wall of the Piano Room - a downtown bar 

Flagstaff is also home to a bar/restaurant called Cornish Pasty. Being British, how could we resist? Pasty and a pint (well, a glass of wine in my case), the perfect way to end the day.

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at  

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Cross Country Adventure - Day 11 (Part 2) - Canyonlands, Utah

Having spent the afternoon recuperating from the morning’s exertions in Arches National Park, we decided on the spur of the moment to visit nearby Canyonlands and try and catch the sunset.
Canyonlands is at the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the canyons carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers.
To our surprise, the park was almost empty. We must have come across no more than about 20 people in total during our visit. Perhaps that made it even more special as we could enjoy the grandeur without the crowds.

Canyonlands covers 527 square miles of desert landscape and the canyons are up to 2,200 ft deep. A paved road through the park links scenic overlooks, but much of the park can only be reached by 4-wheel drive vehicles on dirt roads. Given our limited time we stuck to the paved route, but the views were so extensive from the look-out points that we got a good feel for how large the canyons are. 

It’s difficult to describe how magnificent Canyonlands is so I’ll just post the photos: 

Schafer Canyon Overlook

Green River Overlook

Buck Canyon Overlook

Buck Canyon

We didn't get a spectacular sunset, but it was pretty enough:

Orange Cliffs Overlook 

The Utah Juniper tree, one of the most common trees found in Canyonlands, can survive in the most inhospitable landscapes. While it looks as if it is growing out of the rock, it actually has roots which can spread between 25 and 100 feet in search of water. The trees grow very slowly but live a long time (anywhere between 350 and 700 years) so even small ones like this could be decades old:

As the sun faded out of sight, the landscape turned red. We were sad to leave, but we didn't want to have to drive through the park in the dark.

The gnarled wood makes for interesting fencing!

Both my daughter and I were awe-struck by Canyonland’s sheer size and scale. I'm so pleased we made the last minute decision to visit - it will go down as one of the highlights of the trip for both of us.  

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Cross Country Adventure - Day 11 - Arches National Park

Our plan to spend a full day in Arches National Park had to be quickly revised when we discovered how hot it was in Moab. With temperatures heading towards 100°F, we decided instead to start early and be out of the park by early afternoon.

The towers of Park Avenue

It turned out to be a good decision because it meant we were able to do a 2 mile hike through the canyon from the Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trailhead (so called because it was thought to resemble the buildings along Park Avenue in Manhattan) to Courthouse Towers and back before it got too unbearable. 

Courthouse Towers

The hike took us down a set of steps onto the canyon floor and then along a roughly made trail which snaked beyond the rock formations in the photo.

The rocks provided some early morning shade

The rocks were stunning in their enormity and random shapes. 

Just how big were they? Big enough to make you feel insignificant. 

Some looked like ruins of fortresses or other stone age buildings.

Looks more like a wall than a mountain to me!

Surely, the cornerstone of an old building?

Could almost be a fortress, but no, it's solid rock
While some looked like fossilized people.

This one is actually called "The Three Gossips"

And was it just my eyes, or does this look like ancient inscriptions on the rock face?

ancient inscriptions?

Most of the time on the hike we were completely alone, the silence adding to the sense of wonder induced by the surroundings.

Were we alone because we were crazy to do the hike at all given the heat? Turned out that wasn’t the reason because as we climbed back up the steps on our return we passed lots of people just setting out, including some carrying babies! Rather them than me!

We made a hasty retreat to the air-conditioned car and set off on an 18 mile drive around the park which took in all the major sights, at which points we would leap out of the car to get a closer look and take a few photos as quickly as possible.

First stop was at Balanced Rock, a large precariously balanced rock which looks as if it might topple any minute.
Balanced Rock

The rock is expected to fall one day according to the park notes. Putting our faith in the park rangers estimates that it wasn’t likely to be any time soon (like that day) we followed the path around to get a closer look.  It looks quite different from the side view – though not much more reassuring. You have to admire nature’s sculpting abilities.

Balanced rock from another angle

Then it was on to the arches. The park contains over 2000 natural arches, many of which can be seen along the drive route.

Others are more deserving of a closer look. This includes the North and South Window and the Turret Arch. For these we braved the heat and got out of the car.

The North Window is huge and requires a short uphill climb from the parking lot to see it close up, but it is so wide that it offers plenty of shade once you get there.
my daughter enjoying the shade!

From the arch you get a wonderful view of more of nature’s artistic handiwork in the Parade of Elephants. 
These rocks are called the Parade of Elephants

The South Window is smaller but just as impressive. 

As is the Turret Arch. 

A climb up to the base of the Turret Arch offers a good view of the North and South Windows. It's a bit of a scramble to get up, even worse to get back down!

View of North and South Windows from Turret Arch 

And finally, there is the Delicate Arch, the most famous of them all as it is the one most commonly used in promotional material. 
Delicate Arch from a distance 

By the time we got there the heat was so intense that we made do with viewing it from the Lower Viewpoint, just yards from the parking lot. The Upper Viewpoint is half a mile on a “moderately difficult, rocky uphill route” – not something we were willing to tackle despite the short distance.

It definitely was not the best time of year to visit the park, but it had seemed an opportunity too good to miss and it was well worth seeing despite the restrictions we had to place on ourselves.

The photos don’t do it justice and it’s hard to describe something so magnificent that it leaves you speechless.  The park certainly ranks near the top of the most wonderful sights I’ve seen.

Mel writes contemporary fiction with a twist of mystery and suspense. For more information about her books visit her website, or sign up for her newsletter at