Seventeen Days, Eight States, and One Son
It is 2020 — the year of What’s Next?
Travel in 2020 requires creative planning and thoughtfulness amidst a pandemic. Hitting the road and visiting mostly isolated destinations formulated our plans for a long awaited vacation and quality time with our youngest son. We chose destinations that were unique, on our bucket lists, where Covid numbers were relatively low, and where we felt generally safe. We chose the last two weeks of September when the weather normally cools down, Fall colors start to reveal themselves, and the crowds are smaller. We took all of the precautions and some. Most of our time it was just the three of us, hiking and driving, safe in our own little bubble.
We had the most amazing experience and was constantly reminded how stunning and beautiful America really is.
I grew up in Denver, Colorado, as a child I had always wanted to visit Durango, Telluride, Silverton, see the Four Corners, and visit Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. These locations felt miles away when we were young and with a family of five kids, budget was always a big concern. I don’t know what drew me to these places? I just knew I really wanted to go. The desire to visit was soon filed away as someday, then forgotten as an adult with my own family, but returned with a passion as we planned our 2020 road trip. With the pandemic some items on our ever-growing bucket list were not realized, being on Navajo land — Four Corners, Mesa Verde, and Antelope Canyon were closed. Though disappointing, I respected their decision to protect themselves and their elders. A wise decision in these trying times.
Our first Destination
The southern Rockies in Colorado. Our son lives in Colorado and we live in Washington state. We had planned a slow leisurely four-day drive to Durango, Colorado where we would meet up with our son.
Our plans altered some when the smoke from Oregon and California drifted into Washington state the day we left. It seemed to follow us on our route. We scurried quickly through eastern Washington, northern Oregon, and Idaho. Racing against the smoke, leaving no time for sight seeing. On our third day of driving, just as we passed Salt Lake City, the skies cleared and blue skies and sun were revealed.
Traveling through the southern Rockies and the state of Colorado was more than I expected. Stunning landscapes, rich in history, enticed me to imagine what life was like way back when. Today, the scenery encompasses scattered farmlands, beautiful valleys and majestic mountains. Also small communities trying desperately to hang on to their history while responding to their growing popularity with today’s tourists.
The highlights of our four days in this region:
- Our first day, we drove along the Million Dollar Highway between Silverton and Ouray. This drive is not for the faint at heart — winding curves, steep drops and high mountains, keep drivers on their toes and their knuckles white. Ouray is considered the Swiss Alps of the Rockies, I could understand that sentiment as we dropped down into the valley in which it is located. Surrounded by high mountains, this adorable town was filled with tourist on a warm sunny Tuesday. Our favorite town was Silverton though. A small town in a wide valley, a town which looks like it is stuck in time — charming, old, and simple.
2. Our favorite day was Last Dollar Road — a hidden gem in the Colorado Rockies. Last Dollar Road is a 13.1 mile off-road trail from just outside of Ridgway to Telluride. This road is not meant for just any car, four wheel drive is highly recommended. Plan a few hours, with an ever-changing scenic landscape you will find yourself stopping often to take photos and just enjoy the views.
Bumpy, colorful, vast and adventurous, this hidden dirt road in historic ranching country gives stunning rewards for those willing the take the time to get around the bend.
As Last Dollar Road winds through a low valley surrounded by jagged peaks and deep-blue skies, each bend delivers jaw-dropping scenery. At one turn you’ll find yourself in a cathedral of sun-bathed aspens; at another, a flat vista with views of a quilt-like terrain of furry pines and aspens; turn again, and you’re in a wide-open grassy field, where pristine nature is the only thing between you and the San Juan Mountains. — Colorado Hidden Gem
3. Our last day in the Colorado Rockies ended at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. History, especially Native American history, has always fascinated me. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, this area contains the largest known archaeological site in the United States. Abundant in ancient history these sites expand your imagination of what life was like centuries ago.
This cultural landscape contains more than 6,355 recorded sites reflect all the physical components of past human life: villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs and sweat lodges. Some areas have more than 100 sites per square mile. The number of sites is estimated to be up to 30,000.
The Monument has been used or inhabited by humans, including the Northern Ancestral Puebloan culture (or Anasazi), for 10,000 years, and continues to be a landscape used by humans today. — Bureau of Land Management
It was time to move onto our next location — Page, Arizona
We only had a couple of days in this location so our goal was to make them count. The only must for us in the area was Horseshoe Bend at Sunset. Like so many photographers we had to add this to our bucket list. We arrived approximately two hours before sunset, the goal was to survey the area and reserve the best spot to achieve the iconic star-burst sunshine shot over Horseshoe Bend. It was worth the two-hour wait.
Before Horsehoe Bend we took a drive along the Vermillion Cliffs Scenic Highway, stopping at Marble Canyon / Navajo Bridge and the Cliff Dwellers Stone House site. We stopped at Soap Creek for lunch and a short hike. A nice leisurely way to spend an afternoon.
Our last day we headed up 89 to Kanaab, Utah. Our first stop was the Toadstool Hoodoos.
The Toadstools is an enchanting wilderness area with an easy to moderate 1.5-mile round-trip hike. And well worth the view when you reach the first Toadstools. Bring lots of water, this is a hot hike if you do it on a hot afternoon.
From there we ventured to Johnson Canyon where we located what was left of the old Gunsmoke Movie set.
A surprising location was the The Paria Mountains, aka the Rainbow Mountains. The colors were astounding and a photographers little slice of heaven. We were there during the middle of day with harsh sun, but with the right kind of lighting the colors would have been even more vibrant and deeper, more pronounced. Either way, it is worth the drive (or hike) down the dirt road to discover this colorful location.
As we headed to Moab, Utah we made the required Forest Gump Hill stop in Monument Valley. We were not the only tourists with the same idea. Everyone took turns standing in the middle of the desert highway taking the iconic Forest Gump shot, while the rest stood on the side of the road as spotters watching for oncoming traffic. Our son, reenacted the Forest Gump run up the hill. A fun addition to being on the road.
We had three days in the Moab area, not nearly enough time to enjoy what the area has to offer.
We started our three days at Arches National Park. I was mesmerized by its beauty, the stunning rock formations, and, of course, the arches. I felt like a child in a candy store, excited with so much to see. If you are a photographer, you and your camera go into sensory overload, scoping for the next shot. Also, as a photographer, you have to remind yourself to put the camera down for a moment and just enjoy the scenery, the camera will capture the shot and provide lasting memories, but the real memory is enjoying the moment with all of your senses and appreciating what nature has to offer.
Our day was cut short as a storm rolled in and the wind picked up whipping sand all around. We accomplished quite a bit, but the rest would have to wait until the next time, we were definitely not done yet.
Our second day took us along the Island In the Sky scenic highway in Canyonlands National Park. Everywhere we stopped greeted us with another spectacular view. A popular stop on this highway is Mesa Arch.
For someone who is normally afraid of heights, I am proud to say I did quite well, especially when we did the Grand View Point Trail. The name was appropriate for the view was indeed Grand.
The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet (304 m) above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective on Canyonlands’ spectacular landscape.
Mesa Arch is a spectacular arch perched on a cliff edge. You can get views of the White Rim Road, canyons, and the distant La Sal Mountains. Mesa Arch is a popular spot for sunrise photographers, but it’s an excellent visit any time of day.
Grand View Point lies at the southernmost point of the Island in the Sky scenic drive. From here, you can see the White Rim, features in The Maze and The Needles, and distant mountains. A short, paved sidewalk leads to a spectacular viewpoint.
Night Skies In Arches National Park
We finished off this day with night skies at Arches National Park, capturing stars above Windows and Turret Arch. This was truly the best way to enjoy nature at her best.
Our last day together was a really hot one. Most of the days had been averaging around the high 80’s or 90, but this day it crept up to 96. Hot, slightly exhausted, and just needing a more leisurely day, we drove part of the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (U-128.) This beautiful scenic drive winds through a gorge, following the Colorado River. We stopped at a couple of spots to skip rocks and just enjoy the coolness coming off the river. We followed the road to the rock spires at Fisher Towers but with the heat we opted not to hike the trail, maybe another time.
Ten of our seventeen days were spent with our son. Ten of the most cherished days and experiences I will treasure forever. As our children become adults and we start to grow older, every moment with them becomes more valuable and precious. Memories which sustain us and remind us of love and life.
For seventeen days we traveled through eight states, creating amazing experiences, joyous memories, and a small piece of freedom from all the worries bombarding us.
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