At first we thought crossing the Utah-Nevada state border might be a bit boring, after being totally wowed by southern Utah during the past few weeks. But on this route into the state we enjoyed stretches of gorgeous mountain ranges, a vast treeless valley floor, and seas of sagebrush on dry desert. Continue reading
Driving out of Kanab, we looked in our rearview mirror and vowed to return, for there were many (red) stones left unturned. Our next and final stop in southern Utah was Cedar City, with the intent of visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument. We did some walking there, but the most desirable trails remained closed due to heavy snow during our June 10-14 visit. Total bummer! Continue reading
One reason for extending our stay in Kanab was to get a spot on a guided tour at White Pocket Recreation Area, situated in the Paria Wilderness within Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Some parts of this vast and unusually beautiful area in southern Utah are remote and isolated, and just getting to them on unmaintained backcountry roads can be as challenging as the hike!
At the top of the list of well-known natural wonders for many hikers and adventurers is the unique landscape of “The Wave” near here on the Utah/Arizona border. Because of its appeal and delicate nature, it’s protected and currently only 20 hikers per day are allowed access. Lucky for us, we won the BLM’s lottery for a coveted spot there in 2017, and here’s my post about that amazing trek. Continue reading
On our drive down from Jacob Lake to Kanab we were presented with a view of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We could actually discern the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon (the top “stair” at over 9,000′ elevation). It’s followed by the other vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs and Chocolate Cliffs. And that staircase-like landscape is how the national monument got its name and this is the best spot to really see and understand why.
We had passed through Kanab in 2016, coming from Zion National Park to Lake Powell, Arizona. The richly-colored vermillion cliffs bordering Highway 89 between Kanab and Page were stunning, and we made a mental note to come back one day. Here we were three years later, finally making Kanab our home base for some red-colored fun!
Kanab is surrounded by the distinctively sculpted sandstone cliffs that define southwestern Utah. It’s on the second “step” up (the Vermillion Cliffs layer) in the five-step Grand Staircase. So here’s a warning that you’ll definitely be seeing red by the end of this post!
Steve has managed to get me hooked on the old “Gunsmoke” TV series, as he has been for years. One of the first things we did in Kanab was check out what’s left of the old movie sets from the show. Much of it was filmed in Kanab, and the remaining decrepit structures are on private land along Johnson Canyon Road. Now we both yell “Been there!” when we see one of the structures on the show’s reruns. Yes, this is what our life has come to…
We actually included a stop at the real Dodge City during our journey through Kansas. All of the original main cast members are deceased now except for “Newly O’Brien” (Buck Taylor, now over 80 years old), who was occasionally returning to Dodge City to meet fans at that time.
There were other interesting things along Johnson Canyon that we enjoyed during our drive:
Hitting the trails –
Hiking is only one of the many adventures to be experienced in Kanab, but it was our main focus. You see, trekking the red rocks of southern Utah is pretty much the pinnacle of hiking, in our humble opinion. Steve was excited to try some of them with his new Oboz boots, which he really likes. But we’ll have to come back to explore even more of this beautiful area!
If you have time for only one hike while in Kanab, the Squaw Trail might be a good choice. It was rated easy, but since we climbed 800′ in 1.5 miles with some steep areas we would rate it as moderate. Ascending up the switchbacks, we were rewarded with expansive views of Kanab and up-close encounters with the red rocks:
It turned out not to be John and Pam’s Jeep, but they’d been here a couple of weeks before and suggested we hike the Cottonwood Trail. It’s a 9-mile out and back trek that they couldn’t complete because of bad weather and high water, but we were able to complete it and can report to our hiking buddies that it was a winner!
There were many splashes of color along the way:
But it was the meadow of desert sunflowers at the end of the 4.5-mile trail that made us gasp:
The Mansard Trail was a 5-mile round trip that ended at an alcove near high cliffs:
We followed the same trail that John and Pam had earlier, here is their excellent description of the hike and I’ll just include a few of my photos:
We saw a creepy black spider and many rainbow-colored stink bugs, ewww!
Staring at the cliff and coatings that looked like dripping paint and yellow stripes made us walk right by the alcove:
We backtracked and looked up – we had finally found it!
There were writings and petroglyphs on the floor, which is uncommon. We had only seen similar ones at Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas:
It turned out our planned one week stay wasn’t long enough and we extended a couple extra days to explore the area as fully as we could. But still there are more trails to be had, another list for our future revisits.
And if you think you’ve seen “red” on this post, wait till you see what’s up next!
Next up: Rugged and remote red rocks!
Leaving Flagstaff at 7,000′ elevation, we knew Betsy would get a good workout on the way to our next destination at Jacob Lake. Following US89, we climbed steadily and then continued onto US89A for a drop to 4,000′. Finally, we climbed back up onto Kaibab Plateau and followed the curvy road to Jacob Lake, at 7,921′. Lots of ups and downs, but what scenery along the way! We were so captivated by the gorgeous views at Marble Canyon that we vowed to go back with the car after getting settled in. Continue reading
Continuing the drive north, Betsy climbed to Flagstaff to our next campground along highway 89. We had breezed through Flagstaff several times in the past; on our way to Page to the north, Williams to the west, the Meteor Crater to the east and to the red rocks of Sedona to the south. Now it was time to hang out for a few days.
Not far from Flagstaff and within easy driving distance of each other are three National Monuments of great historical significance: Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument. We had previously visited the cliff dwellings constructed by the Sinagua from about 1100 to 1250 CE at Walnut Canyon N.M., so we’d seen that one and my post is here.
Now it was time to visit the other two!
We’d initially reserved four days at J&H RV Park, but shortened it to two because we wanted to squeeze in a visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon near Jacob Lake, our new next stop. But that’s a story for an upcoming post 🙂
Fortunately the two monuments we planned to visit can be driven in a loop along National Forest 545 loop road. We started at the furthest one away, Wupatki National Monument.
There are six remains of masonry pueblos within this monument, and we stopped at two of them that dot the landscape – Wupatki Pueblo and Wukoki. They preserve the most obvious evidence of human life in what is a beautiful volcanic landscape, telling of the 1100’s when pueblo peoples came together to build a large farming community.
Located just behind the Visitor Center, Wupatki Pueblo was thought to have been the heart of a thriving community and landmark, gathering place and ceremonial center.
With a self-guided pamphlet in hand we toured the pueblo, stopping at each numbered spot to learn about the daily life of the people that lived here. We saw the amazing architectural design that incorporated the shape of natural rock outcrops. The handcrafted slabs of sandstone stacked with adobe mortar was masonry par excellence. The skills of the builders certainly have been proven through the test of time, as the structure has lasted about 900 years.
It was remarkable to learn that this land, so dry and hot, had supported a large farming community. It’s believed that the eruption at nearby Sunset Crater improved the agricultural potential here, as the moisture-conserving cinders helped prevent rapid evaporation.
We continued our drive a few miles from Wupatki Pueblo to Wukoki Ruins, which in the distance resembled a castle looming in the middle of nowhere:
Wukoki, the modern Hopi word for “Big House”, was said to once be home to two or three prehistoric Indian families. Judging from the types of artifacts found during excavation, the inhabitants were believed to have been of the Kayenta Anasazi culture.
The structure is three stories high and positioned atop a Moenkopi sandstone outcrop, which afforded the occupants a commanding view of the surrounding terrain:
Over the years, the ruins within Wutpaki National Monument have been reinforced to stabilize certain areas, ensuring the safety of us curious modern visitors. Each time we visit a pueblo or ancient ruins, we think about how simple and yet how complex those people were. Living successfully in a region of such scarce resources and climate extremes is something we can’t fathom.
Continuing the loop road between Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, we noticed a definite change in environment from desert to mountain:
Sunset Crater is a 1000′ high cinder cone that was created where open parks and forest had been previously. It was formed by a volcanic eruption less than 1,000 years ago, when the colorful glow from the oxidized cinders that fell onto the rim reminded people of a sunset – leading to the volcano’s name.
We followed a trail that looped across the base of Sunset Crater Volcano. It gave a good account of the unique environment created by a volcano, and was like walking along a sculptured garden of extraordinary shapes and forms. We saw the remains of several twisted Ponderosa Pines:
The eruption of Sunset Crater was so powerful that it created more than 600 hills and mountains in what is now known as the San Francisco volcanic field.
We enjoyed our short visit and history lessons here, and recommend it to anyone passing through the area.
Next up: One Day, Two Incredible Canyons!
Prescott and Prescott Valley are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, complete with granite mountains. We tackled three hikes while here; Granite Mountain Trail #261, Granite Mountain Hotshots Trail and Woodchute Trail. Continue reading