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Thread: Travel: Four Corners area, SW US

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    Travel: Four Corners area, SW US

    Since Politesse is here, I thought it would be worth pulling in him on some travel plans I am making.

    I was planning on traveling, in my own minivan, from here in Cascadia, to Salt Lake City and then south to Moab.

    I had planned to spend up to three or four weeks making a loop through the region, with the objective being natural wonder and cultural enlightenment.

    My list:

    Canyonlands National Park - Dead Horse Point State Park, Grand View Point, Island in the Sky visitor center
    Arches National Park - Park Avenue Viewpoint
    Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Spruce Tree House
    Durango & Silverton Railroad
    Chaco Culture National Historic Park
    Canyon de Chelly National Monument
    Petrified Forest National Park
    Meteor Crater
    Grand Canyon, by rail, I guess
    Bryce Canyon

    I am a lazy old fart white guy. I'm not going to be 'hiking in' to much of anything. Think "tourista with Bermudas and Android camera". Traveling 'No Tell Motel'.

    Are there things there which are likely to be disappointing? I'm getting the impression that the Chaco Culture destination is 'challenging'.

    Are there things not there which I might well appreciate knowing they were reachable and of possible interest?

    Knowing interest points within larger known destinations would be helpful. I do tend to go to visitor center information centers and spend time acquainting myself.

    Best time of year? I've been thinking May, as being from the wet side of Cascadia , and being of pasty Anglo-Celtic heritage to begin with, I'm averse to stultifying heat and sun, which the region gets in all too generous an abundance.

    Earliest this will happen is 2019, so we can discuss this at a leisurely and protracted pace.

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    Loony Running The Asylum ZiprHead's Avatar
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    I've been to the meteor crater. It was amazing.

    Also been to the grand canyon. My reaction was similar to Chevy Chase in Vacation.
    ITMFA

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    Grand Canyon.
    Forget the South Rim with all the tour buses running their engines to air condition the tourists. Go North Rim, book Lodge or Camground there Now or soonest for 2019. Drive there. I was there one October, I think, anyway just before the Park was closed for winter, wife and I were last guests booked in Lodge. One of best vacations in my life. Hardly any other tourists, lots of mule deer, a few coyotes, Kaibab forest full of Kaibab squirrels. But buy your booze outside, no booze available there. Superb Canyon views.

    https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm

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    Depending on just how unwilling you are to walk you might find Arches disappointing. The arches aren't drive-up.

    I note the omission of Zion from your list--it's only a couple of hours from Bryce. However, your lack of walking might prove problematic given your planned travel time. Zion is seriously space-constrained and therefore parking-constrained. I dropped my passengers at an in-town shuttle stop and parked maybe half a mile away from there. Private cars without handicap tags/placard are not allowed in the interesting part of the park except in the winter. (And even then parking will be difficult!) There's shuttles both in town and in the park, perhaps 100 yards of walking to connect between them.

    If you're a US citizen or permanent resident (your location could be US or Canada, I'm not sure) you would be well advised to invest in a pass. While it can be done by mail it's cheaper to simply buy it at the first park you visit. IIRC it's $80 for a year, or if you're over 62 it's now IIRC $80/lifetime. You get a credit-card-like piece of plastic that you sign. Show that and your ID to get into any of the national parks. It gets in one vehicle, or 4 individuals where vehicles aren't admitted. (Note, however, that Zion had no problem with 5 of us entering on hers.) A secondary advantage is that in some cases you can encounter situations where the road is open but the booth is unmanned--but you're not supposed to be in the park without paying. If you already entered during normal hours your receipt is still good (in most cases admission applies for a week) but if you didn't you're stuck unless you have a pass.

    As for my experiences with these:

    Canyonlands National Park - Dead Horse Point State Park, Grand View Point, Island in the Sky visitor center
    Never been there.

    Arches National Park - Park Avenue Viewpoint
    Didn't have a lot of time, liked what I saw.

    Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Spruce Tree House
    Durango & Silverton Railroad
    Chaco Culture National Historic Park
    Never been to these.

    Canyon de Chelly National Monument
    I believe I was there as a child, I don't remember it.

    Petrified Forest National Park
    Liked it, some walking required. (The logs are where nature put them.)

    Meteor Crater
    Unimpressed.

    Grand Canyon, by rail, I guess
    Been there multiple times, but on backpack trips that are obviously beyond what you're willing to do. From up on top it's not that impressive to me. If you have a car why do it by rail?

    Bryce Canyon
    Like it. Supposedly sunrise is the best time but I have yet to make it there then.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whollygoats View Post
    Since Politesse is here, I thought it would be worth pulling in him on some travel plans I am making.

    I was planning on traveling, in my own minivan, from here in Cascadia, to Salt Lake City and then south to Moab.

    I had planned to spend up to three or four weeks making a loop through the region, with the objective being natural wonder and cultural enlightenment.

    My list:

    Canyonlands National Park - Dead Horse Point State Park, Grand View Point, Island in the Sky visitor center
    One of my favorite places!

    Arches National Park - Park Avenue Viewpoint
    Keep driving! Park Avenue is cool, but you want to see some actual arches I think! If you want some crazy cool arches without much of a hike, I recommend Double Arch (where Indiana Jones III starts). It's best to get there early in the day for reasons of both temperature and crowding. Once the tour buses arrive it can get a little mad.

    If you have not read it, or even if you have actually, I would recommend bringing along a copy of Edward Abbey's meditative environmental opus "Desert Solitaire" while traveling in this region.

    Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Spruce Tree House
    A solid plan! Easily the most accessible of the ruins. Do the whole loop around Chapin mesa also, and if you have an interest in archaeology be sure to stop at the reconstructed pithouse, and Square Tower House which is also a very brief walk from the parking lot. Also, while at the visitor center, grab lunch at the Cafe, which has maybe one of the better commercial versions of the Navajo Taco.

    Durango & Silverton Railroad
    Would you believe I lived in Durango for three years and never took the train? I recommend it, though. If you happen to be served drinks by a smiley gal named Heather, she's my ex-wife's ex-college-roommate. My favorite dinner place in Durango proximate to the train station is Gazpacho's - classic new Mexican style fare. The students usually argue about whether it or Nini's Taqueria are the best.

    Chaco Culture National Historic Park
    Due to aggressive mineral and gas exploitation, this park is not as "wild" as it used to be, but on the plus side, the entrance road is paved now (it used to be dirt). Definitely worth the drive to see it. Consider stopping at Aztec Ruins NM on the way from Dgo to Chaco; it's about halfway, and is a spectacular ruin; it took over regional power after Chaco's golden age ended. Kasha-Katuwe/Tent Rocks is also in this region.

    Canyon de Chelly National Monument
    Petrified Forest National Park
    Meteor Crater
    A good leg! I find Meteor Crater a bit tourist trappish just in the way it is managed, but it is a real (and cool) site.

    The Chinle is my favorite rock formation, and you'll see it all over.

    Grand Canyon, by rail, I guess
    Bryce Canyon
    If you're going to Bryce Canyon anyway, I second the suggestion above to go to the less crowded North Rim rather than the South, especially if this is in the summer or anywhere near it. It's about a 3 hr drive from one to the other, and you'll get to see some Cowalos on the way. I've never done the Grand Canyon Rail either, but I know the country it goes through and doubt that it is anything like as fun as the Silverton narrow gauge.

    If you want another little adventure, Kodachrome Basin is a small but beautiful state park in the Bryce Region.

    Depending on what way you go, Zion NP could be a logical stop on your way back into Utah, and is pretty spectacular; if you're tired of driving, they have a well-designed tram system and encourage use.
    I am a lazy old fart white guy. I'm not going to be 'hiking in' to much of anything. Think "tourista with Bermudas and Android camera". Traveling 'No Tell Motel'.
    You should be okay for the most part. Canyonlands is a bit rough, and you should be cautious in any of these locations about bringing enough water, etc.

    If you're interested, I co-published a educational travel guide to this region with my father a while back, and would be happy to send you a .pdf copy of my section, which covers the archaeology and contemporary culture of the Grand Canyon/Zion/Bryce loop.

    Are there things there which are likely to be disappointing? I'm getting the impression that the Chaco Culture destination is 'challenging'.
    Disappointment is in the eye of the beholder. The only thing which can ruin a trip to the Southwest is lack of planning or "touron" encounters.

    Knowing interest points within larger known destinations would be helpful. I do tend to go to visitor center information centers and spend time acquainting myself.
    A wise practice! Befriend an interpretive ranger, they know all. My best bud on the North Rim is Gaelyn Olmstead, who usually works the lodge visitor center info desk on summer afternoons.

    Best time of year? I've been thinking May, as being from the wet side of Cascadia, and being of pasty Anglo-Celtic heritage to begin with, I'm averse to stultifying heat and sun, which the region gets in all too generous an abundance.
    I tend to prefer early Fall, myself, like around mic-October; the mountain areas are pretty when the aspens are going, and it tends to be cooler. I note that the climate has been getting excessively warm the last three decades, and the timing of the seasons correspondingly inconsistent. May might be nice, especially if the wildflowers are still going, but you might want to go a month sooner if you want to be sure to miss the summer heat. May heatwaves are now not unheard of.

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    Great information, all.

    I'd love the .pdf. As a teacher, I collected stuff like it all the time.

    I'd wondered about the North Rim. The train was mentioned because I'm hearing that auto traffic in to the south is being discouraged. I'd rather loop around the north, anyway.

    Every report I get about actual Four Corners is, "Don't bother, it's a USGS plaque and that's it", but it might not be that far out of my way in backtracking out of Chaco in order to get to de Chelly.

    I'd much prefer to go in mid-April because I'd like to be home for the iris bloom in mid-May. This augurs well for October, too. We wouldn't be running in to hazardous climate conditions then, would we?

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whollygoats View Post
    I'd wondered about the North Rim. The train was mentioned because I'm hearing that auto traffic in to the south is being discouraged.
    True, though like many of the "crowd-control" parks, there's a big parking lot with tram service to the rest of the park. There are cool things on either side of the park, but for a first visit to the Canyon, I tend to recommend the North Rim.

    Every report I get about actual Four Corners is, "Don't bother, it's a USGS plaque and that's it", but it might not be that far out of my way
    Both are true. It is only a minute or two off of the Navajo highway, but I see no real reason to go either. And speaking of crowds, it's a bunch of people trying to get selfies on top of a single point, surrounded by booths with Diné knick-knacks.

    We wouldn't be running in to hazardous climate conditions then, would we?
    No, "monsoon season" is generally in the summer, tapering out around mid-August, early September.

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    Cyborg with a Tiara
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    Quote Originally Posted by whollygoats View Post

    I was planning on traveling, in my own minivan, from here in Cascadia, to Salt Lake City and then south to Moab.
    A great trip, we did a longer version in 2010 (also in a minivan) and loved it.
    Canyonlands National Park - Dead Horse Point State Park, Grand View Point, Island in the Sky visitor center
    Canyonlands is nice, we visited the needles area. Beautiful.
    Arches National Park - Park Avenue Viewpoint
    Agree that this one is better if you are a hiker. We skipped it on our second trip in favor of Canyonlands and Bryce.
    Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Spruce Tree House
    Yes! Go! Hits your cultural bucket.
    Durango & Silverton Railroad
    Lots of fun, beautiful look at the wilder mountainsides, no walking required.
    Chaco Culture National Historic Park
    We didn’t hit this one
    Canyon de Chelly National Monument
    Did not go to this one, we went to Monuments Navajo Tribal Park instead
    Petrified Forest National Park
    Great park. Very short walk, but so much t enjoy in the geologic side of things
    Meteor Crater
    Fun, but touristy. It’s privately owned, and has a cute back story on that. Don’t need to spend much time but it’s a nice stop.
    Shortly after that, in Holbrook AZ are charming concrete teepes motel rooms with 1950s cars parked in front. And a good diner across the way
    Grand Canyon, by rail, I guess
    I agree with North Rim and the cottages there would make a wonderful overnght stay. If you can plan that night or few nights to be not-weekend, you’ll have a better chance of getting them.
    Bryce Canyon
    Extremely cool, very worth it and lots can be seen without hiking.
    Best time of year?
    We went in July. Had a great time, but yeah, it was 105* plus every day April/may will be more likely to have clouds, but I agree with fall also.


    Add:
    Bonneville Salt Flats west of salt lake city. Miles and miles of perfectly flat where they speed test cars and where scores of pioneers died.

    Sand Dunes Nat’l Park Colorado, east of Durango Near Alamosa. 600ft grey sand dunes formed by winding blowing up the valley. Damn cool.

    Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah - go there after Bryce (or on the way to Bryce.) Another wind tunnel between two ridge lines exept this time the sand is salmon colored. Cool graphic showing how the dune is shaped by the valley and hasn’t changed shape in a century.

    Grand Staircase Escalante NP on the way to Bryce and Coral Pink. Just know where it is and drive by it on your way - pretty incredible cliff colors. I haven’t hiked in it, so I don’t know if there are some good driving routes. worth looking up tho.

    4 corners just got an upgrade 5 years or so ago. Yes it’s just a spot but local native people have been trying to add cultural stuff, and I frankly enjoy the shopping there. Tourist prices, but locally made. You hould look online to see how much upgrade has happened. It was in progress in 2010

    It’s a great trip. Have extra water in your car at all times to ensure a fun trip. Being hot and thirsty sucks.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    Ooh, I second Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Bizarre, cool location. There's two plants and an insect unique to the dune field being protected by the park. I love it there despite being baffled by it visually (due to my optical protanomaly I assume, the whole place looks bright orange to me rather than pink as commonly described).

    My photo of the Welsh's milkweed found throughout:

  10. Top | #10
    Formerly Joedad
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    Having lived in El Paso for three years and seeing much of the area I recommend not overlooking state parks. It has been 40 years however since living there so I am assuming there has been much development around areas since then. On a recent drive from El Paso to Carlsbad much of the desert had changed with development.

    Also, not being willing to walk a bit will keep you with the crowds, which was not my method at the time.

    I remember the heat but not being uncomfortably hot due to the low humidity / high elevation.

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