Thursday, July 19, 2018

My American Southwest Roadtrip (Part 2)

For quite some time, seeing the national parks of Southern Utah has been on my travel wish list.  Last month, I was able to check them off as I explored Utah's Mighty Five and several other notable sights in the Four Corners region.  It was a road trip that was a feast for the eyes and the senses.  It was really more incredible than I ever imagined. 

Last week,  I shared days 1-4 of my road trip, which included Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, Arches NP, and Canyonlands NP.  If you are interested, please check Part 1.

Day 5 - Mesa Verde NP | Drive to Monument Valley via Four Corners Monument

What we did:  We woke to a chilly and drizzly morning in Mesa Verde.  Knowing that I'd be outside for several hours in the cool morning rain, I was forced to by a lovely national park sweatshirt at national park prices - cha-ching - because I stupidly talked myself out of bringing a fleece at the last minute.  Note to self - ALWAYS bring a fleece!  Undeterred by the dismal rain, which the area was in desperate need of, we donned rain ponchos and took an early tour of Balcony House.

Like Cliff Palace, getting to Balcony House requires visitors to descend down several flights of stairs and then climb several ladders to get to the dwelling.  The dwelling itself is smaller than Cliff Palace, but still quite fascinating. 

As I explored these cliff dwellings, I couldn't help but think of how life would've been like living there.  I wondered what in the world prompted the ancient Puebloans to build their dwellings where they did.  I also wondered why they abandoned them after going through all the trouble to build them on the cliffs.  The park ranger revealed that archaeologists  once interviewed present day members of the Hopi tribe, who are descendants of the ancient Puebloans of Mesa Verde.  When asked why they (the ancient Puebloans) left, an elder from the Hopi tribe explained that "it was time leave."  That's not quite the definitive answer I was hoping for, but I can understand the fact that sometimes it's just time to move on.

The most interesting part of Balcony House, in my opinion, is getting out which requires squeezing through a narrow tunnel/hole and then climbing up a ladder and steps that are carved into the side of the cliff.  

*If you ever visit Mesa Verde and want to tour Balcony House, there is a "test" tunnel in the visitor's center that I recommend you try out before booking a tour.  If you don't fit or can't get through the test tunnel, then you won't fit in the real tunnel at the ruin and you have to go through it to leave.  And, based on my experience, the test tunnel in the visitor's center is way more generous in width than the real thing.  Keep that in mind.

About 40 miles southwest of Cortez, CO, off US 160, is one of the biggest, kitschiest, piece-of-Americana tourist traps in the southwest - the Four Corners Monument.  The Four Corners is the geographical area where corners of four states - Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah - meet and this is the only location where this happens in the United States.

The Four Corners Monument is on Navajo Nation land.  After forking over $5 a person, we parked our car and set off to see this geographical oddity.  I'm not exactly sure that I was expecting, but I think I was expecting something... bigger, something truly monumental.  The Four Corners Monument isn't really a monument, but rather a concrete, plaque-like area covering the ground that you can walk and stand on.  All of us were like, "This is it?" None-the-less, we had a good time taking pictures of each other in the four states.

Later that afternoon, we arrived in Monument Valley and were met with continued chilly temps and overcast skies.  After checking into the hotel, we got back in the car and drove among the famed mesas and buttes that have been featured in numerous Hollywood films.

That evening, the weather cooperated and the clouds separated a bit which allowed the setting sun to reflect against the red formations.

Where we ate: Far View Terrace Cafe in Mesa Verde NP (breakfast) and The View Restaurant (dinner) in Monument Valley, AZ
Where we stayed:  The View Hotel in Monument Valley, AZ

Day 6 - Drive to Page, AZ | Lower Antelope Canyon Tour

What we did: We attempted to watch the 6:00 a.m. sunrise, but unfortunately the cloud cover interfered. The view was still pretty, though.

Backside view of The View Hotel.

After breakfast in the hotel's restaurant, we leisurely drove 125 miles to Page, AZ.  After a stop at the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor's Center and a fast food lunch somewhere (I can't remember what), we arrived at a dusty spot in the middle of the desert for a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon.

Lower Antelope Canyon is slot canyon.  Slot canyons are narrow and significantly deeper than they are wide.  Lower Antelope Canyon, as well as Upper Antelope Canyon which is located a few miles away, were formed by erosion of Navajo sandstone primarily due to flash flooding.  Due to the risk of flash flooding in the desert and entrapment within the canyons, the canyons are only accessible through guided tours.

When we arrived at the tour operator's office, all I could see in any direction was flat, red earth, no holes in the ground, nothing but sand that was occasionally stirred up by the hot wind.  After a short walk from the parking lot, a large crack in the earth came into view.  Within a few minutes, we descended into that crack in the earth via several sets of metal stairs.

The Navajo name for Lower Antelope Canyon is Hasdeztwazi, which means "spiral rock arches."  Many years ago, herds of antelopes roamed freely in the area, which explains the canyon's English name.

I have seen pictures of Antelope Canyon before, but in all honesty, no pictures, not mine, not those taken by professions, do it justice.  There is no way to completely capture the colors, textures, or ever-changing light that filters in from above. It was absolutely stunning.

Why am I running around with people who look like masked train robbers?
One word - dust.

Emerging from the canyon literally involved climbing out of a crack
in the Earth's surface.

That evening after dinner, my traveling companions went hiking along the shore of Lake Powell.  I, the introvert, was in desperate need of some "Ericka time," time to be quiet and recharge, so I opted to go back to the hotel and enjoyed the pool and hot tub.

Where we ate: The View Restaurant (breakfast) and Stromboli's in Page, AZ (dinner)
Where we stayed:  La Quinta Inn in Page, AZ

Day 7 - Page, AZ | Drive to Springdale, UT | Zion NP

What we did:  We took an early morning float trip down the Colorado River with Wilderness River Adventures.  The roundtrip journey consisted of a bus ride to the base of Glen Canyon Dam (after going through a 2-mile downhill tunnel through the Navajo Sandstone), a 15 mile float trip down the Colorado River to Lees Ferry, and a 45 minute bus ride back to Page.  During the trip, we stopped at a "beach" and viewed some petroglyphs, floated through the famous Horseshoe Bend, and saw an Arizona shipwreck - the Charles H. Spencer.  

Glen Canyon Dam Bridge

Upon exiting the bus, we had to wear these dam hats while walking to the boat because
people throw things off the Dam Bridge (above).

I can confirm that the water along this stretch of the Colorado River was COLD.
Our guide said it was 48 degrees.

The remains of the Charles H. Spencer

After returning to Page and grabbing a quick lunch, we drove 115 miles to Zion National Park.  Zion is an unusual place and it's hard for me to describe.  The reds and oranges that are so common in southern Utah were still present, which made Zion resemble the other national parks of The Mighty Five.  But, there was also lush green vegetation within the park.  There were trees with flat, broad leaves that we hadn't seen much of during the trip.  They reminded me so much of Yosemite NP (California) that I experienced a strange sense of deja vu.   

After checking into our room at the coveted Zion Lodge, which we lucked up and got  just a few weeks before our trip, we rode the Zion shuttle to the 8th and final stop, the Temple of Sinawava.  

From there, we walked along the Riverside Walk, a two-mile (roundtrip), mostly paved trail that meanders alongside the Virgin River to a point where the canyon is so narrow, that there are no banks of land on either side of river.  This is where I saw a lot of people stop.  Many shed the shoes and socks, played in the water a bit, and then started the walk back to the shuttle stop.  Fortunately, I had on my hiking sandals, so I was able to hike up the river into The Narrows a little further.  The water was cool and refreshing.  If I ever make it back to Zion, I will hike more of The Narrows.

We took a more leisurely pace while walking back to the shuttle stop.  We noticed how the colors of the canyon changed as the sun began to set.  We saw weeping walls and dealt with incredibly aggressive, crazy squirrels that knew absolutely no fear.  That night, after returning from dinner in town, we enjoyed our private porch and watched the stars slowly emerge.


Where we ate: Jack's Sports Grill in Springdale, UT (dinner)
Where we stayed: Zion Lodge in Zion NP

Day 8 - Zion NP | Drive to Las Vegas, NV

What we did:  The alarm clock woke us early, shortly after 5:00 a.m., and by 5:45 we were walking through the early dawn light from Zion Lodge to the Grotto Trailhead.  We crossed the footbridge over the Virgin River and began our trek to the top of Angel's Landing.

Long story short - we came, we conquered.  The hike and climb to Angel's Landing, the most revered hike in Zion and perhaps in all of Utah, was the most strenuous, physically demanding, and scary thing I've ever done.  For a more in-depth look my experience, please see my post An Inexperienced Hiker's Take on Angel's Landing.

We were back in our lodge room shortly before 11:00 a.m. to change clothes and checkout.  Then we drove into Springdale for a well deserved meal at Blondie's Dinner, which luckily served breakfast all day.  The drive from Zion NP to Las Vegas is about 160 miles an took us around 3 hours.  I think I slept the first hour and a half.  We had no set agenda for the rest of the day or evening.  After dinner, I treated myself to some ice cream and then took a long, relaxing soak in the ginormous bathtub in our junior suite.

Where we ate:  Blondie's Diner in Springdale, UT (lunch) and Rain Forest Cafe (dinner) in Las Vegas, NV
Where we stayed:  The Signature at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV

Day 9 - Fly home


So, there you have it - my nine day, six national park, five state, two flight, & one blister American Southwest Road Trip!

Of all the places we saw during the last half of our trip, I think seeing the amazing colors or Lower Antelope Canyon was my favorite.  

In case you missed it, here's the link to My American Southwest Roadtrip Part 1 (days 1-4).

Have you visited any of these parks/places?  If so, which one was your favorite?  

Linking up with:


  1. I love the colors and lighting of lower antelope canyon you did a great job on the pictures

  2. ...there sure a lot of gorgeous spot to discover out there! High places and climbing on rock sure wouldn't be for me. Thank for your visit. 😀

    1. Yes, there is! Such a beautiful and amazing part of the country! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. You should be a travel writer! I love the southwest ... the colors are so bright and pure. I've been through that tunnel -- yikes. I giggled at your "running around with people who look like masked train robbers? One word - dust." Yep! Good times!

    1. Thank you! Perhaps I was in a former life or will be one in my next! LOL! Yeah, I have cracked up at that picture ever since the trip. For the record, I had a bandana, too, but I kept it in my pocket and only used it when necessary. LOL!

  4. Sounds like had a great trip! I don't think we've ever done all of it in one trip, though over time I've visited all. My favorite? I love them all, but I think it woudl be Mesa Verde, just because there is so much to the site. Monument Valley is a close second, again, because it is so much to it. The Southwest is a spectacular place and you picked all the geat places to see. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. It was a GREAT trip! the only reason we were able to cover as much ground as we did it because we were never in one spot very long. We seriously moved along at a break neck pace! LOL! If I ever make it back out there, which I think I will, I will spend more time in Moab (riding ATVs and Jeeps), I'll hike to Delicate Arch again (but not in 100F temps, and I'll spend another night in Zion, maybe - all depends on how much hiking I plan to do. Monument Valley is my aunt's favorite place. I swear, I think she could stay there admiring the mesas and buttes for days. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Wow it must be so cool to learn more about the Hopi tribe and how they lived! Their old houses are so fascinating and I'd love to see them one day, as well as Lower Antelope Canyon! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Mesa Verde was very cool! There are many more ruins there to see within the park, but given the tight timeframe we were on, we could only see the two. Lower Antelope Canyon... I tell ya what. After my tour concluded, I would've gladly went back to the ticket office to see if there were any openings for the next departing tour. It was that spectacular! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. My dream roadtrip! Your photos of the Antelope Canyon are spectacular, i can't wait to see it in person! #theweeklypostcard

    1. I encourage you to do it! I hope it turns out to be exactly (if not better) than you've imagined! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I want to visit all these places (only been to Zion). I still need to do a big road trip around Utah and Arizona. I have done some trips but not to the areas you are showing in here. Love all your photos! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Thank you! Yes, that's the thing about the southwest, there is so much to see and do that it's almost impossible to get it all in, especially if you're only working with limited number of days. I figure I'll make it back out there one day, for my husband hasn't seen any of this, nor has he seen the Grand Canyon.

  8. The Utah parks have been on my bucket list for awhile. The scenery is just stunning. Doing all that in 9 days is impressive. I was thinking I would need 2 weeks. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Yes, we covered A LOT of ground in just 9 days. But, let me tell ya, we were moving along at an almost break neck pace! Two weeks would've been ideal, but we were working within a certain budget and within time constraints. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Antelope is GORGEOUS. I don't think I could do the tunnel exit in the first one.

    Zion Narrows are high on my list.

    1. I really wish I had had more time in Zion to go further up The Narrows. One day! I would go back to Antelope Canyon in a heartbeat! It was absolutely stunning!

  10. Beautiful part of the country. Your pictures are wonderful they capture the colors! #theweeklypostcard


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