Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: USA Road Trip 2011

Parks galore

I got up around 7am. The Hampton Inn breakfast reminded me of many motel breakfasts of old: paper plates, a few basic options, but actually not that bad. The breakfast room was busy already; people here clearly knew the best time of day for sightseeing, which is before the worst of the heat builds up, giving the added bonus of a low sun shining on the various landscape features.

Arches National Park

I drove the short distance to Arches NP entrance station and paid USD80 for an annual pass. Given the number of parks that I intended to visit on this trip, to say nothing of possible future trips within the following twelve months, I was in no doubt that it represented the best deal. I spent the entire morning in the park, which I had previously visited in 2000.
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My current visit was an altogether less hurried affair and I was able to call in at practically all of the sights accessible by paved road, including Petrified Dunes, Balanced Rock, Windows, Panorama Point, Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch and Skyline Arch. Getting into the spirit of the great outdoors, I also did a few walks. I walked to Balanced Rock and to both of the lower viewing points for Delicate Arch, although the higher of the two was tough going in the heat. Sand Arch was a short walk, but required more effort than expected due to the soft sand. The path to Broken Arch was the best of all: an easy, flat walk (albeit with plenty of opportunity to get sunburnt!) and a very worthwhile objective at the end of it.

After all that, I drove to the end of the paved road at the park campground, then all the way back to the entrance station station without stopping, which proved to be remarkably quick! Back in Moab, I stopped at a gas station to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. I took them back to the Hampton Inn, but had to wait for ten minutes as the maid was servicing my room.

Dead Horse Point State Park

After lunch, I was ready to set off on the second part of the day's sightseeing, taking in Dead Horse Point State Park and the 'Island in the Sky' section of Canyonlands National Park, both accessed via Highway 313. Even the initial part of the road was interesting, and I pulled over a couple of times to admire the views. When I eventually took the fork for Dead Horse Point and made my way towards the entry station, I began to have a few doubts about its State Park status. Hadn't it quite made the grade as a National Park? I had no idea, but happily paid my ten-dollar entry fee when I reached the booth. The agent told me that it was two miles to the Visitor Center, with the main viewpoint a further mile beyond that. I could see that it was delightfully quiet as I approached the first stop. All doubts disappeared in an instant as I was confronted by one of the most jaw-dropping, genuinely stunning views that I had ever seen.

I spent some time walking the short trails and calling in at the Visitor Center. As I climbed into the car once more, I recalled the words of the agent at the park entry booth: "... and the main viewpoint is a mile further on". The main viewpoint? Was someone seriously suggesting that what I had just seen wasn't even the main view? Surely some mistake!

In fact what awaited at the end of the road was probably even more impressive, if only because amazing views were available through a panorama of nearly 270 degrees.

There were signs of adverse weather off to the south-west and I wondered about the wisdom of continuing to Canyonlands NP. (At this point I hadn't read the official advice about lightning. Inside a vehicle is actually the second-safest place to be, after inside a building.) When I got to the junction with the main 313 highway, I decided to press on with the plan and turned left towards the northern section of the national park.

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky section)
The name of the northern section refers to a large mesa standing some 1000ft above the surrounding landscape and consequently affording many viewpoints over it. I visited the so-called Grand View Point first. Large drops of rain began to fall, so I hastily took a few pictures and retreated to the car.

I decided to complete the full set of park roads in this section by driving the stretch to Upheaval Dome. It was a bit of a waste of time, as the road led to nothing more than a trailhead. However I also drove the one remaining spur to Green River Overlook, and this turned out to be another winner. A coach-load of Asian tourists were already in attendance and seemed to be impressed. 

It was time to return to Moab and after a short spell in my room, I walked to dinner at an Italian bar / restaurant, which I thought was a little pricey by US standards. I was ready for another good night's sleep after an absolutely packed day of local sightseeing. 'Local' seems an appropriate descriptor because my base continued to be the Hampton Inn, Moab; yet astonishingly I had managed to clock up a total of 174 miles - yikes!

Tuesday 30 Aug

Miles driven: 174

Trip to date: 501

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