Hiking where the Dinosaurs roamed – Vernal, UT

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Continuing our slow move southward, the next stop was at Vernal, Utah.  Betsy had some serious mountains to traverse as we crossed the Wyoming-Utah border on the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway.  We saw several major geological formations that exposed the core of the Unita Mountains, and as we neared the summit we paused for a few minutes to take in the breathtaking views of the deep multi-colored canyons:

Flaming Gorge

Taking a break near the summit overlooking Flaming Gorge

We’ve driven this section of the byway before, and the unique geologic features never fail to “wow” us.  Several signposts can be seen along the roadside that teach motorists the geology of the area.  They identify the various rock strata and types of fossils found there, and describe the geologic time period.  My previous post contains more photos and information from our last trip through the area.

The type of geology and what creatures lived here are nicely displayed along the road

The city of Vernal and its surrounding area is “dinosaur country”, well known to geologists for the fossilized relics found in the ancient seas that existed here.  Our 2016 trip took us to Dinosaur National Monument, where more than 1,500 dinosaur bones and fossils have been found.  Click here to read more about the logjam of fossils located at the monument.

Vernal – Dinosaurland

Temperatures hovered at or above 95 degrees during our one-week stay.  We were initially concerned that the smoke blown here from the California fires would hamper our outdoor activities, but we forged ahead with plans to hike trails that we missed during our last stay.  Unfortunately most of my photos are a bit hazy and smoky.

There are many excellent trails here on the ancient floodplain which was once home to dinosaurs.  Sticking to our mantra of early starts and lots of water helped us to beat the heat and have the trails practically to ourselves 🙂

Smoke enveloped Dinosaurland

Dinosaur Trackway Trail

The reward at the end of the 1.8-mile Dinosaur Trackway Trail is not as obvious as other hikes.  Based on plaques along the way, we had to search for the reward: 200-million-year-old dilophosaurus tracks preserved in the slick rock shores of Red Fleet reservoir.

While neither of us is into paleontology, seeing the tracks is still pretty amazing.  The trackway is found on a slanted rock at the end of the reservoir, which is sometimes partially covered during high water periods.

Looking across from Red Fleet State Park at the slanted rock where dinosaur tracks exist

A short 1.8-mile hike from a road across from the state park got us out to the tracks

The Red Fleet track site reveals several hundred footprints, and includes five distinct trackways.  A trackway is a set of three or more footprints left by the same creature, and they are rare.  Some were much harder to see than others, but we managed to find several:


Red Fleet

Red Fleet SP was named from 3 sandstone formations in the area that resemble battleships from various angles

Sound of Silence/Desert Voices Trail combination

Both of these trails reside within Dinosaur National Monument, and can be combined by a connector trail to provide a wonderful 6.3-mile loop hike.  They are interpretative trails; the Sound of Silence Trail has numbered trail markers that coincide with a guidebook, while the Desert Voices Trail has plaques that include commentary about the park system and local challenges involving water and land use, and traditional ranching activities.  There are also displays created by kids for kids, one of which taught us about Antlions – never heard of them!

Sound of Silence Trail

Exposed geologic layers at the start of the Sound of Silence Trail

Sound of Silence Trai

Nugget Sandstone dated to the Triassic age, 200 million years ago

Sound of Silence Trail

A narrow path through the remains of a shallow water environment – 250 millions years old

The presence of iron is responsible for rust-colored rocks, intermingled with layers tinted in yellow, orange and green

A hazy view of Split Mountain in the distance

Desert Voices Trail

Green River was the turnaround point for the Desert Voices Trail

Yes, it’s as steep as it looks

Desert Voices

Steve pushes a rock off the path – yeah, right!

Some of the thought-provoking plaques along Desert Voices Trail

This was a moderate hike, and happily we didn’t meet a single soul along the trail.  We were awed by the monument’s geologic diversity, colors and textures.  Because of the guidebook and plaques on this trail, we’re more aware of the many amazing changes that have occurred over millions of years, and the recent environmental changes surrounding us. We highly recommend this hike!

Moonshine  Arch Trail

This was another winner.  Hiking to an arch is always exciting, even one less spectacular than this one.  Moonshine Arch is one of Vernal’s best kept secrets, and we’re very happy that our friends John and Pam had done this hike in the past and recommended it.

It took us a couple of tries to find the trailhead, and we suggest using the map provided by the State Park – and the All Trails app if you have it.

Moonshine Arch

It was a short but quite strenuous hike to the arch.  I know, I know – a Jeep would have gotten us much closer!

Moonshine Arch

After huffing and puffing for a mile we got our first view of the arch

Steve scaled the arch and got this cool photo of us, his shadow on a rock and me below

Moonshine Arch

Moonshine Arch is large, at 85′ long and 40′ high

We played in and around passageways next to the arch

Jones Hole Trail

When our friend Hans noticed on Facebook that we were in Vernal, he immediately suggested an excellent hike – but it was 40 miles to the trailhead.  Hans and Lisa know a good hike when they do one, so after a bit of groaning by Steve we were on our way.  Wow, they weren’t kidding – just the drive to the trailhead at Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery was worth the trip!

An early drive on Diamond Plateau gave us a view of sagebrush fields with literally hundreds of deer grazing all around.  We had to slow down several times to avoid hitting them

Descending off the plateau, the scenery changed radically and we were gawking at massive cliff faces

The trail is in a remote and scenic part of Dinosaur National Monument that runs from Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery to the Green River.  It was an easy 8-mile round trip hike, changing only about 200′ in elevation.  The walls of the canyon towered almost 2,000′ overhead, giving us shade during much of our trek.

The trail begins at the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery – not much hatching going on today!

Jones Creek

Listening to rushing water during a hike is the best!  Is there a bathroom around here?

This is an awesome trail that offers so much – a scenic canyon, Fremont Indian archeological sites, a spur trail to a small waterfall, and a Bighorn Sheep sighting if you’re lucky – all while meandering along babbling Jones Creek until it joins with the Green River.  We loved it!

The steep cliffs gave us shade all morning

Clear rushing waters in Jones Creek

 Ely Waterfall

Touching the clear, cold water at Ely Waterfall

Petroglyphs (rock art) and Pictographs suggest that Fremont Indians hunted game here some 800 to 1200 years ago:


End of the trail where Jones Creek joins Green River.

Rafters/Kayakers taking a break at Jones Hole

On our way back, a splash of cold water kept me from overheating

We were ready to give up on seeing Bighorn Sheep, until we ran across a herd of them right along the trail and less than a mile from the trailhead where we had started!

Quite a few of them showed up to congratulate us on our successful hike!

Steve says the calorie count in my app is totally bogus – too low.  But what matters is the “high” you get after the hike, right?

Eagle Ridge Trail

On our final day at Steinaker State Park, we accessed the park’s Eagle Ridge Trail from the group camping area.  It followed the ridge and gave us great views all around, including a glimpse of Moonshine Arch, Hogback Ridge, Betsy in the campground, and almost empty Steinaker Reservoir.  It’s expected that the reservoir will be re-filled in Fall of 2019 after planned dam modifications are completed.

Now that we knew where Moonshine Arch was, it was easy to spot from Eagle Ridge

Steinaker Reservoir

Steinaker Reservoir is being emptied for planned repairs/upgrades

Steinaker State Park Campground with Betsy among the trees, do you see her behind the green cover?

That wraps up our one-week stay at Steinaker State Park.  It was hot and smoky, but we felt we had explored much more of the place where the Dinosaurs once roamed.


Note:  Now that we’ve settled in for a few weeks at Fruita, Colorado to wait for the Fall colors, I’m planning to refresh our blog site with a new theme (WordPress has retired my current theme).  It may take a while to get everything set up, but I’ll be re-joining the blogosphere as soon as possible.  See you then!

Our final stop in Utah – Brigham City

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Each time I return from my hot and humid country of the Philippines, I bring souvenirs with me, in the form of coughing, a lost voice and jet lag.  Thankfully, Brigham City had just what was needed to mend my ailing body.  Wildflowers, birds and a historic site thrown in the mix were just what the doctor ordered for a quick recovery!

I smiled big when I saw that welcome sign 🙂

I knew exactly what I wanted to do when we arrived here.  There was a wild bird refuge nearby, and the Wellsville Mountains had trails waiting to be hiked.  Golden Spike National Monument was only a few miles away, and we were hoping to check out Antelope Island.  Unfortunately, we were told the mosquitoes were in full force on the island so we canceled that visit.

Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

At the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, I was hoping to see a few Tundra Swans, as they are known to pass through here on their journey north.

“Welcome to our home”, sang the Barn Swallow

This refuge has had a disastrous past.  First, it almost died due to irrigation diversion in the 1920’s, then it was hit with an avian botulism outbreak causing the death of 1-2 million birds.  Finally, in 1983 it was devastated again due to the Great Salt Lake flood that inundated the wetlands with salt water and decimated the refuge structures.  When the lake levels receded six years later the refuge was rebuilt and the vibrant ecosystem eventually came back to life.  And as many other cities do, Brigham City claimed it to be the best birding destination anywhere.

A lone Pelican on his breakfast hunt – Steve loves this guy!

In the morning we drove to the refuge and followed the auto tour through the 74,000 acres of pristine wetlands and marshes of the Bear River Delta.  The Tundra Swans were long gone, but a few locals were hanging out enjoying their breakfast in the swamp:

Hundreds of White-faced Ibis were on the move as we left

Golden Spike National Monument

After gawking at the birds and breathing some fresh air we drove west to Promontory Summit, Utah.  This is the site where the last spike was driven to join the transcontinental railroad that connected the western states to the rest of the nation on May 10, 1869.

We made it to Golden Spike National Monument just in time to see a re-enactment of the original ceremony, which completed the nation’s first transcontinental railroad.  This historic event linked America’s first transcontinental railroad, and ultimately opened the western frontier to settlement.  Steve and I had both learned about this event long ago, but it was very cool to actually be at the site where it happened.

Re-enactment of the “wedding of the rails” ceremony at the last spike site

Re-enactment of the dignitaries that attended the original ceremony

The last spike

I’m pointing to where the last tie and spike were laid to marry the two railroad companies

A gorgeous replica of Central Pacific Railroad’s Jupiter got Steve’s attention

A replica of Union Pacific Railroad’s No. 119 moving to meet the Central Pacific RR

While there, we drove the East Auto Tour route, stopping for lunch at Chinese Arch which was named to honor thousands of Chinese workers brought in to accomplish Central Pacific’s portion of the railroad.  Those 10,000 Chinese workers faced tremendous obstacles as they tunneled through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Along with Irish work crews, they were famously known for accomplishing a feat that would never be duplicated, including laying ten miles of track across the Utah desert in a 12-hour period.

We had Chinese Arch to ourselves, along with a great view as we enjoyed lunch

Back to hitting the trails!

Brigham City is near the northernmost point of the Wasatch Front, and the steep Wellsville Mountains branch off of it.  The tourism office touted these mountains as the steepest range in the world.  Why?  What makes the Wellsville Range special is that it’s only five miles wide at the base and rises almost straight from the valley floor, which is at about 4,500′ in elevation.  When we looked closely we noticed that indeed there were no foothills leading up to these mountains!

Wellsville Mountains –  no foothills, so from either side it appears to be a giant mountainous wall rising directly from the valley floor

We’re not sure if it’s really the steepest range in the world, but it did offer several moderate and strenuous trails, and we followed one of each to get my legs back into hiking mode.  And I was smiling ear-to-ear when we arrived at the trailhead for our first hike, which was carpeted with yellow wildflowers!

Wild Parsnips blanketed the area

Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers were in full bloom as well

Arrow leaf Balsam root

A vast swaths of Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers were wishing me to get better soon

On another day we followed the Deep Canyon Trail, which eventually leads to Box Elder Summit at 9,372′.  I hiked most of it, but my lingering cough caused me to stop when Steve announced he just had to reach a nearby fog-covered summit.



Off he goes to the summit…

…I’ll just wait here for him – cough, cough!

As Steve headed off, I got busy with my camera as colorful spring wildflowers begged for my attention. With the whole mountainside to myself accompanied by chirping birds, I was in solitary bliss.

This guy, Green tailed towhee stopped singing as I entered his space

Steve returned with a smile after about an hour and said, “I’m going to feel this tomorrow!” (and he did).

Steve’s view from the top

This was a perfect stop for me to mend from my long trip.  What more can I ask for – an unforgettable display of wildflowers, singing birds and hiking are the stuff that gets me going!

And with that, we said goodbye to Utah!


Next up:  Hello, Idaho!


A legacy in stone, Nine Mile Canyon – Price, UT

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Our rule is to not drive more than 200 miles in a day, and so far in our six years of travels we’ve broken it only 3 times.  But that was only because we were in Alaska and had little choice while trekking across the vast Alaska Highway wilderness.  So when Steve realized the drive from Moab to North Salt Lake City was well over 200 miles, we decided to take a midway break at Price, UT.

While making the RV park reservation, we asked what there was to do in the area.  The owner advised there were 10 museums nearby, along with six other activities in the vicinity – including several hiking trails.  We went ahead and booked 2 nights so we’d have a full day to check things out.

We opted to defer the museums for a return visit, and instead chose to enjoy one of the outdoor activities – driving through Nine Mile Canyon – which I recalled reading about in Jodee Gravel’s post.

Our home base in Price, Utah – Blue Cut RV Park

I initially thought we’d be driving along and looking at a 9-mile long panel of rock art, when in fact it’s just part of a 70-mile backcountry byway.  There are several theories of how Nine Mile Canyon got its name.  An old one in 1869 says that John Wesley Powell’s cartographer (map maker) used a nine-mile transect system for mapping out the area.  A more modern version refers to the 9th Cavalry, which built the road for better access to Fort Duchesne for the moving of troops and supplies.  Either way, the Nine Mile Canyon name has stuck to this day.

History says that in a span of 8,000 years or so there was a succession of people and cultures that lived and traveled through Nine Mile Canyon.  They consisted of the Native Americans, the 9th Cavalry who built the road, freighters that hauled goods to Price from Uinta Basin, and settlers.  Each left traces that included rock art, historic inscriptions, old homesteads and abandoned mines.

It was a pleasant and easy meander along Nine Mile Canyon

This post is about the petroglyphs (images carved/inscribed on a rock surface) and pictographs (symbols or art painted on rock surfaces) left behind along the canyon walls.  Neither historians nor archaeologists have been able understand or interpret the messages they may impart.  But for sure the abundance of this well-preserved legacy on stone is unique and irreplaceable.

Hmm, I don’t see any art here!

Sandstone is an ideal canvas for prehistoric artists, and for us to later ponder their messages

There were no signs in the canyon directing us to the sites, but with the help of this guide or this one we enjoyed trying to find them on our own.  Armed with a mile-by-mile guide, we searched along the 50-mile stretch of rock art.  Truthfully, the mile marker guide and map were less than in-synch, and we did a bit of head-scratching and back-tracking for a while – all part of the fun!

We almost missed Pig Head Rock (balanced rock) with a panel of various figures

At mile 26.6 was the first major panel, and I think the easiest to find

An old homestead that was a functioning ranch at one time

High on this cliff is a prehistoric storage granary, can you see it?

How about now?  Even with binoculars it took us a while to spot it

Cruising through the canyon, we drove slowly and looked carefully at all rocks with black patina on them.  There were so many petroglyphs!

At times I walked along the road looking for art on my side, while Steve scanned his side

Human shapes with headdresses and some with toes and fingers

A rainbow, sun, deer and strange round figures

Defaced pictograph rock art now privately owned at the Rasmussen Cave (mile 43.9)

There were some more recent traces of people who also left their mark:

A “recent” signature on the walls, from 1915

Daddy Canyon

At Daddy Canyon Complex, a trail lead us to cliff faces containing Fremont and Ute era rock art

Some petroglyphs were distinct and others quite faint:

A pregnant buffalo

This could be a farm scene

A red buffalo and green deer pictograph

While gawking we were also being gawked at!

Looking around and up I noticed a “mummy rock” formation

At mile 45.7 we followed a trail that led us to the largest known buffalo petroglyph

A slithery guardian of the art panels was on watch

That IS a large buffalo petroglyph!

The highlight of all rock art here is the famous “Hunt Panel”, which is located near the end of the canyon at mile 45.9.  This one can’t be missed, for it has a parking area with a kiosk.  This is one of the finest petroglyph panels we’ve seen, and it appeared in National Geographic magazine as the best example of Fremont rock art known.

A well marked trail led us to the Great Hunt panel

Pictographs near the ground on the lower canyon wall

Great Hunt Panel

The Great Hunt Panel – believed to be a depiction of an actual bighorn sheep hunt

We had the canyon to ourselves, except for the wildlife monitoring us.  There were three other canyon spurs that beg for exploration; Lower Nine Mile Canyon, Dry Canyon and Gate Canyon.  But we’d had enough for one day, an interesting and relaxing drive with so much to see and think about!

Journeying through Nine Mile Canyon was worth spending an extra night at Price, Utah


Next up:  Our final Utah stop – Brigham City




Scenic drives with friends – Moab, Utah

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I am so much enjoying flipping through my Moab pictures as I write this post, reliving recent wonderful times with friends.  While there, we were grateful to be offered a ride into the backcountry where high clearance vehicles were required.  Our friends Dave and Sue kindly drove us into some spectacular scenery in their Jeep (named Rocky) that they had enjoyed previously.  Onion Creek Road, located off of highway 128, was our destination.  The road winds through a narrow valley, crossing Onion Creek approximately 30 times (according to the official score tabulated by Sue and myself).

Rocky at his first creek crossing, about 28 more to go!

Hoodoos high up on the cliffs

Source of the sulfur smell that gave Onion Creek its name

A ribbon of red dirt forms Hogback Ridge

A “wow” moment, you have to see this in person to get the full effect

Sue looked like an ant walking through The Narrows

Onion Creek Salt Diapir

The contrast of colors and textures in the diverse formations was amazing.  And if you’re into geology, this link gives more detail about these fabulous formations.

After several hours of gawking at the jaw-dropping scenery, we topped off our day with some wine tasting at Castle Valley Winery.

Doc Harry and Chris, whom we met during our Viking River Cruise last October, arrived in Moab a few days later.  This time we played host and took them on a scenic drive that did not require a high clearance vehicle.  Forty-four mile long highway 128 is also known as the “River Road”, for it runs along the Colorado River with 2,000-foot red rock cliffs rising on both sides.  We had driven it several times before, and taking Harry and Chris was a great excuse to revisit this gorgeous scenery that we never tire of.  The river corridor offers a spectacular view of world-class climbing destination Fisher Towers, and Professor Valley where several movies have been filmed.

High sheer sandstone walls of the gorge

Fisher Towers in the shadow of La Sal Mountains

Steve, Chris and Harry at Professor Valley

Fisher Towers is a mecca for rock climbers, and there were a few of them when we arrived

Colorado River and the Richardson Amphitheater viewed from behind Red Lodge

Green trees contrasting against red hills

Capping our day with a happy hour and dinner at the Henderson’s

On days when everyone was doing their own things, Steve and I did one last hike on the Portal Overlook Trail.  The day was overcast and windy, but we still enjoyed the sweeping views of Moab Valley, the south portal of the Colorado River, a glimpse of Arches National Park and the distant La Sal Mountains.  This trail mirrors the Stairmaster Trail on the eastern side of the river, but is more exposed, with sheer drops up to several hundred feet.  Another gem of a hike in this area!

Pancakes lined the trail

Across the river is the Stairmaster Trail that runs along the anticline

Straight down about 980′

There were several warnings for bikers along the exposed trail

Looking north, the Colorado River enters Moab Valley, with Arches NP in the background

Yet another warning for bikers to be extra careful on the trail

One final look at Moab Valley from above

With our friends also camped at Portal RV Resort, we enjoyed several happy hours and scrumptious dinners:

Shrimp boil, courtesy of Dave and Sue

A colorful vegetarian dish prepared by me

A final meal together before we all go our own ways 🙂

And with that, we bid goodbye to Moab as we move on to new explorations and adventures!


Next up:  Nine Mile Canyon


Now where were we? Oh yeah – Moab, UT!

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It’s been several weeks since I returned from the Philippines, and just like my previous visit I came home coughing and sick, with about a week required to deal with jet lag.  But I had a grand time with family, former high school classmates, coworkers and friends in the sweltering heat and humidity.  I survived that journey, and I’m sure glad to be back home!

So where were we?  Oh yeah, having a blast with friends in Moab a few weeks ago!

We stayed in Moab for two weeks, exploring and hiking trails we had missed during our first visit.  Although it’s been a few weeks, the photos I took then are bringing it all back to me now…

Beautiful freestanding Delicate Arch sits on the edge of a natural sandstone bowl, as seen through Frame Arch

We revisited Arches National Park to see a few new-to-us arches, and to get up close to Delicate Arch which is a widely recognized symbol of Utah.  It’s described as “the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area.”  Although sunset is said to be the best time to photograph it, we are morning people so we hiked out to it at sunrise before the crowds arrived.

Delicate Arch

Depicted on Utah vehicle license plates, Delicate Arch is 60′ tall

We then continued our explorations, checking out Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch, all of which we hiked in one big loop.

Sand Dune Arch

The base of Sand Dune Arch is covered by wind-driven sand and is hidden within a slot canyon created by two massive, adjacent sandstone fins

Broken Arch

Broken Arch is not really broken, although it is wearing a bit thin at the top with a crack running through the middle of the span

Tapestry Arch

Tapestry Arch shares a sandstone fin with two “proto-arches”

The La Sal mountains were covered in snow during our visit, a gorgeous contrast to the nearby formations

Here is more information on the other popular arches we visited at Arches NP.

The small resort town of Moab is surrounded by stunning red rock landscapes, making it a huge playground for outdoor enthusiasts.  We tackled as many hikes and activities as we could during our stay.

Rock climbers along Potash Road

Hidden Valley Trail

A thunderstorm with hail made us turn around during our first attempt on this trail a couple of years ago.  The first part of the hike is a steep uphill climb, then at the top we reached a low divide to the valley as it traversed between awesome towering cliffs.  We were rewarded with scenic views, solitude, and a fine rock art panel.

Hidden Valley was a beautiful surprise

Looking down at a rock wilderness

Overlooking the south end of Moab

Colorful lichens brightened some of the rocks

Long Bow Arch

One of the many trails along Potash Road, this trek is known for the dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs that can be seen along the way.  Wildflowers had already started showing off blooms while we were there.

Tracks of theropod dinosaurs left behind some 190 million years ago

Petroglyphs on the walls

Long Bow Arch

Long Bow Arch has a span of 60′

La Sal mountains peek through gigantic sandstone fins

Jeep Arch Trail

This trail is also accessed from Potash Road and leads to a photogenic, jeep-shaped arch situated in a large sandstone cul-de-sac.  On our way in we followed the trail along the canyon ridge, then climbed high above the side of the wash.  On the way back we wandered through the canyon bottom for some variety.  The views here are wonderful and impressive, with multi-hued sandstone walls lining both sides of the canyon.

The trail begins with a walk through a large culvert

Can I climb up there?

Steve “driving” the Jeep Arch, although he didn’t think it looked like a jeep at all

Pondering how to get to the bottom of the canyon

Water in the desert canyon – we really enjoyed this route less taken

Water marks on the canyon floor

In sandy areas we got a whiff of fragrant yellow Desert Holly flowers

Stair Master Trail

This trail lived up to its name, gaining over 900′ in the first mile on slick rock.  After catching our breath at the top, the reward was excellent views of the Colorado River, Moab Valley, La Sal mountains and even part of Arches NP in the distance.

Window Arch in Arches NP was visible from this trail

Looking down at the Colorado River and towering cliffs along Potash Road

We had some fun with friends Dave and Sue during this hike.  We could see our RV park from the summit, so Steve called them to see if they could spot us with their binoculars.  After we waved frantically like a couple of maniacs, they finally did see us!

Portal RV Resort was waaaaaaaay down there!

Zooming in on Dave and Sue as they zoomed in on us

The trail runs along a ledge of purplish sandstone on an anticline rising next to the Colorado River.  It forms the cliffs that define the western side of Moab Valley, and also a gnarly jeep trail for “extreme jeepers”.

The trail runs parallel to the Moab Rim Jeep Trail

The guy in the pickup didn’t do so well!

Taking it all in – Moab Valley and the La Sal mountains in the background

Heading back down the Stairmaster Trail – this one didn’t disappoint!


Next Up:  Enjoying Moab sights with friends


Moab, where outdoor adventures abound!

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By the time you read this, my vacation across the Pacific Ocean to my home country of the Philippines will be well underway.  My storytelling will be on hold while I’m having fun in Moalboal, my hometown where I’ll be attending my high school Golden Jubilee celebration.

Goodbye Bluff, Moab here we come!

We stayed in Moab for two weeks and we were quite active while there.  Betsy is currently parked near Salt Lake City, as I enjoy my jouney and Steve does some traveling of his own, including a trip to Tucson for his periodic medical checkup.

This stop in Moab was our second time through, and below are the posts from our first fun stay there.  Feel free to check them out until I return to resume my blogging chores:

For now, here are photos taken on the road to Moab:

Perfect timing – I snapped this photo of Wilson Arch as we whizzed by in Betsy

Snow-covered La Sal mountains

Approaching Moab

La Sal viewed from our campground, Portal RV Ranch

Next up: ?????

Bluff, Utah the second time around, Part 2

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Bluff is a great home base for several adventures in the area, all surrounded by incredible scenery.  As I mentioned in my last post, this was our second visit here and I’d published two posts of our previous explorations a couple of years ago:

Having experienced/viewed/photographed the jaw-dropping scenery here, we focused our energy this time on exploring more ancient ruins.  You see, the southwest and in particular the Four Corners region (CO, AZ, UT, NM) was the heart of the ancestral Puebloan culture.  They lived here eight centuries ago and left behind impressive and well preserved rock art and village ruins.

Also known as the Anasazi Basketmakers, the ancestral Puebloans were the first humans to establish permanent settlements in the area – building small pit houses at first, then larger, multi-roomed cliff dwellings.  Some now have well-marked trails to them, while others are not shown on maps, remaining unknown and maybe even undiscovered.  During this visit we checked out Hovenweep National Monument and the Citadel Ruins.

Hovenweep National Monument

This monument is an hour’s drive from Bluff, located in canyon and mesa country north of the San Juan River.  It spans the UT/CO border and consists of six separate village ruins.  Of the six, we visited Little Ruin Canyon, which featured a collection of structures clustered along its rim.


Hovenweep is the Ute Indian’s way of saying “deserted valley”

We followed the Rim Trail loop, where most of the dwellings stood right on the canyon rim while others sat atop irregular boulders.  The unusual architecture featured round towers and square or D-shaped structures grouped at canyon heads.  These fine ruins have withstood 7 centuries of weathering and were designated as a national monument in 1923.

Square Tower rises from the bottom of the canyon, with Hovenweep House in the background

Eroded boulder house features a double-sided wall

Twin Towers, among the most carefully constructed dwellings in the southwest, had 16 rooms


Skillfully laid thick and thin sandstone blocks built on solid rock

Hovenweep Castle is perched on the rim.  The people who lived here were farmers, not kings and queens

We pondered what life must have been like way back then, the canyon abuzz with sounds and activities.  The fact that parts of these structures remain standing is a testament to the skill used to build them.

According to the visitor center movie, this is how part of the village probably looked 700 years ago

Citadel Ruins

On another day we intended to hike the Lower Fish Creek Ruins only 18 miles from Bluff.  But after driving 4 miles on loose and sometimes deep sand, we gave up after getting stuck a couple of times (no AWD on our CRV).  With the winds here, a lot of sand can collect on the roads in a short amount of time.

Cleaning sand out of the tailpipes after sinking deep

Is he laughing at us?

Figuring out a Plan-B, we proceeded to drive an hour to Cedar Mesa to hike the Citadel Ruins, a trek John and Pam had completed a couple of days prior.  Using their post as our guide, we heeded their warnings about the rough road out there and parked the car about a mile short of the trailhead.  But just the drive to Cedar Mesa brought back fond memories:

Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears National Monument in the distance

Passing Valley of the Gods

Driving Moki Dugway again – three miles up steep and sharp curves for a fabulous view!

Raplee Anticline – aka Navajo Rug – is like abstract art painted by natural minerals in the rocks

The first part of the hike to the Citadel was fairly easy, but we eventually had to figure out how to get down to the “land bridge” leading out to the end.  We finally found a route across slick rock and scooted on our butts a couple of times to resume our route.

The only wildflower we saw – Indian Paintbrush

There were several Anasazi ruins on the many ledges along the canyon walls

Oh, maybe that isn’t the easiest way down!

Citadel Ruins

The ruins are near the top of that peninsula of rocks

It’s only when you’re at the base of the Citadel that you can see the ruins.  Hidden under a ledge, it would have been an excellent place for a defensive stronghold.  But we did wonder about the effort it must have taken to get water up here from the creek bed some 500′ below!

We puzzled over why there was no rock art here…

We were told these are the original straps that hold the window headers together – amazing!

Looking north – Steve thought this was one of the most amazing canyon hikes we’ve taken

Looking south, see the two hikers?

Looking down 500′

Looking back at the Citadel ruins, overlooking Road Canyon with a 360º view – it’s a wow!

Bluff’s Founder’s Day and Fry Bread Festival

Our stay also happened to coincide with Bluff’s 2nd Annual Founder’s Day and Frybread Festival.  The city of Bluff was founded in 1880 by the famous “Hole in the Rock” expedition of Mormon (Latter-Day Saints) pioneers, whose mission was to establish an agrarian community on the San Juan River.  We patronized the event by purchasing pizza from the lunch truck, and by clapping loudly when descendants of the pioneers walked by in the parade so they’d throw lots of candy at us!

The gang heads up to check out the food trucks – first things first!

We watched a Navajo mother and daughter demonstrate how to weave a wedding basket, explaining the design symbolism just as our guides at Monument Valley and Betatakin Ruins had:

Navajo fry bread with honey on top – incredible!

We were a bit melancholy at our goodbye happy hour, as John and Pam were heading back to Boulder City to finalize the purchase of their new home.  But at the same time we were glad that we’d be meeting up with Dave and Sue at Moab, our next stop.

The bluffs of Bluff as the background during our final happy hour with John and Pam for a while


Next up:  Moab, a city teeming with adventures

Into the Heart of the Valley of the Monuments – AZ/Utah Border

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Totem Pole

We first saw the incredible formations in Monument Valley during our drive through the area on highway 163 a couple of years ago.  At that time I was reminded of the amazing scenery of many western movies and photos from the distant past.  I only had time for a few photos during that passage, but we vowed to spend more time here and did just that during the last week of March this year.

Monument Valley was destined to be a hidden natural treasure, enjoyed by only a few intrepid travelers venturing into this area wilderness.  But we learned that thanks to Harry and Leone “Mike”  Goulding, it was transformed into an icon of the American west.  During our stay at Goulding’s RV Park, our eyes were opened to how it became a popular place to stay and play for Hollywood stars and many other folks passing through.

Harry Goulding posed at John Ford’s Point in the late twenties

And the story goes …

In the early 1920’s, Harry, a sheep trader and Leone (nicknamed “Mike”) came to Monument Valley looking for a business opportunity.  They were very fortunate to buy a substantial plot of land when the Paiute Indian Reservation relocated and many acres became available for sale.

The Gouldings immediately set up Goulding’s Trading Post at the base of Big Rock Door Mesa, while befriending and conducting business with the local Navajo people who accepted them.  Unfortunately, when the great depression hit the Navajo Reservation suffered immensely.

Harry and Mike went to Hollywood to show pictures of the beautiful valley to director John Ford.  They convinced him that Monument Valley was perfect for his next movie, and in less than a month Ford began shooting “Stagecoach”, which starred John Wayne.  Nine more Ford films were shot here, which not only helped the Navajo with much-needed money, but also opened to the world the stunning red rock formations standing tall in the middle of the desert.

Gouldings- the hub at Monument Valley

Many decades later, Goulding’s Lodge consists of a lodge, cabins, museum, restaurant and an RV campground.  Goulding’s businesses have grown and changed hands through the years as Monument Valley has continued as a backdrop for many movies and television shows and ads, as well as a popular tourist destination.

Goulding’s Lodge was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its importance to the local area.

New Goulding’s lodges and cabins at the foot of Rock Canyon

This iconic stretch of land is in the heart of the Navajo Indian Nation, and home to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which spans the Utah/Arizona border.  The Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation manages the park valley, not the National Park Service.

The valley viewed from the windmill formations

To see what is beyond the walls of the monuments, several tours are offered by various Navajo operators located near the visitor center.  We opted for an all-day tour offered by Goulding Tours, which took us down not only the rugged 17-mile loop of Monument Valley to view the famous monuments, but also the restricted backcountry and Mystery Valley, amazing areas far away from public access.

All bundled and layered up this bright early morning!

Most areas here are off limits unless you are with a Navajo guide, and our guide Larry took us into several restricted areas.  He told many stories about Navajo culture and history during our excursion.

Our first stop was at a hogan, which was a primary traditional dwelling of the Navajo people, although today it is used for ceremonial purposes.

The entry to a hogan always faces east to welcome the rising sun for good wealth and fortune


The roof is constructed by criss-crossing Cedar tree sections.  No nails are used, and the exterior is covered with mud for structural strength and as a barrier against the elements

Inside the hogan, a grandma demonstrated the Navajo technique for processing raw wool fleece from sheep into a weaving yarn and ultimately looming it into a beautiful rug.  What’s amazing is there are no patterns to follow and the design comes completely from the weaver’s imagination.  She also showed us how blue corn is ground and some basket weaving techniques.

Grandma does not speak English so Larry interpreted for us the yarn weaving and rug making techniques

I was attracted to the beautiful jewelry as she ground corn

We continued our sandy and dusty excursion, as Larry narrated through a speaker system that was set up in the back of the vehicle.

Our open-air tour vehicle

When we were on top of a hill he related the story of how in 1863 the Navajo people were mistreated and forcibly removed from their ancestral land to begin The Long Walk of 425 miles from Fort Defiance, AZ to Fort Sumner, NM where they were exiled.  This year marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 between the Navajo and the United States government, which gave them the freedom to return home after four years of internment.

Larry showed us the area where uranium was used to be mined

For the next 29 miles we were led into Mystery Valley’s side-box canyons, visiting much of the valley’s secluded natural arches and windows.  There’s also an abundance of concealed and undisturbed Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs in this area.

Skull Arch

View from the right eye of the Skull Arch

We just had to pose on top of Honeymoon Arch, which got its name from the small “honeymoon suite” ruins located inside it

Honeymoon Suite Ruins

There was lots of this – short and strenuous hikes up and down slick rocks to rewarding views

Undisturbed House of Many Hands

Pictographs and petroglyphs

At the top left are the many hands which gave name to these ruins

While Larry prepared lunch we checked out more ruins and petroglyphs within the huge box canyon:

These unnamed ruins were reduced to rubble

Large goat petroglyphs

Soaring cliffs within a box canyon – our beautiful lunch spot

After lunch Larry drove us deep into the backcountry, where he continued his narration of the valley’s history, geography, culture and lore.  As we passed clusters of Navajo communities, he mentioned that 30% of Navajo people have no electricity and no running water.  Income is derived from tourism and sales of handmade trinkets, jewelry, and beautiful intricate rugs.

Clusters of Navajo families can be seen scattered across the valley

Monument Valley

In some places we saw hogans alongside modern homes and cars

It was common to see cows and horses roaming along our route

A Navajo Indian coming home from shepherding

Big Hogan

The Big Hogan arch is like an amphitheater

Big Hogan

Inside the Big Hogan Arch Larry performed a Navajo ceremonial chant

After his chant we were asked to lie down on our backs along the rock wall, and to look up at the arch to see the eye and beak of an eagle:

Big Hogan

Can you discern the eagle’s head and eyes?

This lone tree blended well with the surrounding cliffs

Erosion has caused some interesting patterns here

For perspective note our tour vehicle under the Eye of the Sun arch

Running goats at the base of Eye of the Sun Arch

Large sand dunes are the result of monument erosion

The Valley

Finally we were in the shadows of the amazing rock statues, the monuments that Harry and Mike introduced to the world.  Our tour’s final stretch was over the rugged 17-mile loop that is open to the public.  Larry pointed out places where famous scenes from movies, TV shows and commercials had been filmed over the years.

The dusty and rugged 17-mile loop can be driven by folks in their own vehicles

Monument Valley

Scene from the 1939 movie “Stagecoach”

Monument Valley

The valley that made John Wayne exclaim, “So this is where God put the west.”

John Ford's point

A resident cowboy poses for tourist’s tips at John Ford’s Point, mimicking a scene from the 2013 movie “Lone Ranger”

Monument Valley

Totem Pole and Yei Bichei rise from the valley’s dusty landscape

Totem Pole

Clint Eastwood stood on top of the 450′ tall Totem Pole in the movie “Eiger Sanction”

Monument Valley

North Window framing the King’s Throne and Brigham’s Tomb buttes

West Mitten Butte – that sliver of rock appears to be God looking down at the valley

We were completely covered with orange sand at the end of our bumpy, dusty ride, but through Larry we had learned a lot about the Navajo Indians and what exists behind the Navajo Nation wall.  This all-day tour is the only way to see the heart of the valley of the Monuments!

Monument Valley

Larry and our tour ride

Native Americans’ name for Monument Valley translates to “the sand that lights up the valley,” and below you can see why:

Monument Valley

Moonrise over Sentinel Mesa

Peace, says the Big Indian Chief

Steve’s enjoys his daily sunrise view from our dining area window

This formation is King on the Throne, but Larry says it’s John Wayne sitting on a toilet 🙂

Monument Valle

West and East Mitten buttes, note the tourists below for perspective

Golden hour

Shadows form on the King’s Throne as the sun gets low in the horizon

Forest Gump Hill

Betsy and Steve pose at Forest Gump Hill


Next up:  Hiking the Betatakin Ruins



Hitting Scenic Byways and Backways – Flaming Gorge, Utah

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Mellow sightseeing day trips in Flaming Gorge country is just what the doctor ordered, after our last few frenetic stops.  The home base here was at Pine Forest RV Park in Dutch John, Utah (Steve’s review here), which was central to our sightseeing adventures.  Virtually every road we drove was designated a national or state scenic byway or backway.  What a great way to enjoy and explore the area as my knee continues to mend – although I know I’ve missed a lot of good hiking trails!


When a place has a catchy name such as Flaming Gorge, we wonder how that name came about.  In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell and his men saw a red gorge that looked from a distance like it was on fire due to the way the sun hit it.  We discovered three spots during our auto hikes of the area that we thought manifested that play of light; Red Canyon overlook, Sheep Creek overlook and Antelope Flats – where Powell thought the water appeared to be flaming.

Red Canyon

Red Canyon frames the reservoir

Sheep Creek Overlook

Sheep Creek Overlook off of Highway 44

Flaming Gorge

Flaming Gorge is best dramatized at Antelope Flats.  Doesn’t it look like the gorge is flaming?

The heart of this country is the 91-mile long reservoir – also called Lake Flaming Gorge – created by Flaming Gorge Dam which spans the Utah and Wyoming border.  With more than 300 miles of shoreline for water activities, the Utah section of the lake winds through colorful narrow canyons, while the Wyoming portion is wider and surrounded by high sagebrush deserts.  The Flaming Gorge Recreation Area is a popular Utah attraction, although we were happy to see that it wasn’t overrun by people during our stay.

Lake Flaming Gorge

A small section of the 91-mile Lake Flaming Gorge

Of the many byways and backways here, we chose four for our roadway adventures; Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway (green line on the map), Sheep Creek Geologic Loop, Spirit Lake Backway (pink line) and Red Cloud Scenic Backway (red line). The route we took as we moved our home base from Vernal to Flaming Gorge was also part of the scenic byway.

Flaming Gorge byways

Flaming Gorge-Uinta National Scenic Byway

This drive traversed a wide variety of landscapes.  It was a full-day trek that crossed the Wyoming/Utah border while winding through high desert, astonishing rock formations and the glistening eastern flank of the Uinta Mountain peaks.

Art Gallery of Time

Art Gallery of Time overlook – Wyoming Hwy 191

Cart Creek Bridge

Cart Creek Bridge on Hwy 191 spans the reservoir

We stopped at Flaming Gorge Dam, just up Hwy 191 from our campground.  Impounding the Green River and creating the reservoir behind it, the dam stands 502 feet above its foundation, and 448 feet above the river.

We joined a free tour (our favorite kind!) which gave us an up-close view inside and around the structure.  It was built to provide water storage, with hydroelectric power capability added halfway through the project.  Completed in 1964, it took six years to build and 12 more years  for the reservoir to fill behind it.


Unseasonably high temperatures during our stay caused excessive runoff into the reservoir, so we were able to view all of the generators running plus water cascading through the dam’s two 72-inch water gates – a rare occurrence.

Flaming Gorge Dam

The rushing water from these pipes was deafening!

This poster caught my attention:

Colorado River Plumbing

A good illustration of why so little water if any makes it to the Gulf of California nowadays

Crossing the Utah/Wyoming border, we stopped for lunch at Rock Springs, WY.  Then we continued to the Wild Horse Scenic Loop, which was a bust.  We didn’t see a single one of the 250 wild horses that roam this vast 392,000 acre area while driving the 24-mile gravel road that exited at Green River, WY.

Wild Horse Scenic Drive

In search of a wild horse – none over here!

Wild Horse Scenic Loop

Finally a wild horse!  Oops, just a lone fat sheep in the middle of nowhere

Next we took Hwy 530 south and continued along the west side of Lake Flaming Gorge. Going through Manila, we took Hwy 44-E  back to the campground.  It was a long 200+ mile driving day, but we enjoyed each overlook showcasing the splendor of the gorge.

Highway 44

Beautiful green mountains along Hwy 44

Sheep Creek Overlook

Sheep Creek Overlook on Hwy 44

Sego Lily

Sego Lilies were abundant here

Unita Mountain Range

The Uinta Mountain Range is the tallest in Utah, and the only one with an East-West orientation

Red Canyon Overlook

Flaming Gorge Reservoir framed by the Red Canyon, viewed from the visitor center

Big Horn Sheep

Nice earring, Miss #13

Sheep Creek Geologic Loop

This backway took us through some dramatic geologic features.  Despite our recent experiences with spectacular rock formations in southern Utah, we were still in awe of these.  More than a billion years of geologic history is showcased on this loop.  What’s unique here is that the formations are labelled, allowing folks to identify specific ones from the map and relate to what they’re seeing.


Another interesting feature here is what’s called the Uinta Fault, which runs for more than 100 miles along the north slope of the Uinta Mountains.  One formation that really got our attention was the extremely twisted rock layers along the upper part of the loop we drove.


This whole mountainside was severely twisted

Spirit Lake Backway (pink line)

The Spirit Lake backway spurred off the Sheep Creek Geological Loop.  It’s a dirt road that winds through pine and aspen forests, and wildflower-filled meadows.  The alpine vistas of the High Uintas was a gorgeous backdrop as we moved along.


Steve was disappointed that the tower was closed and he couldn’t go to the top

Deer and Fawn

A new family strolls in a meadow

Uinta Mountains

The Uinta Mountains still had plenty of snow

Red Cloud Scenic loop (red line)

This drive crossed broad meadows, aspen groves and a sea of lodgepole pine forests.  The vibrant wildflowers along the road made me force Steve to stop several times so I could capture them.



Ashly National Forest

I took a rest from all of the auto hiking 🙂

Back at the campground we had lots of entertainment – a herd of cows passing through, marmots scurrying around our site and birds stopping by for a snack.


A magpie and marmot check each other out

Herd of Cow


Hairy Woodpecker

A hungry Hairy Woodpecker

Steve had a conversation with one of the locals:

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Does this coat make me look fat?

The Flaming Gorge landscape is aptly named, and there is plenty of room to play in this beautiful scenic place.  But our week came to an end, and it was finally time to say goodbye to Utah.


Next up:  Steve’s latest project


A logjam of fossils – Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

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Dinosaur National Monument

In 1909, Earl Douglass, a paleontologist working for the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburg, PA discovered a formation layered with prehistoric plant and animal fossils.  What he found that summer day turned out to be part of the most complete Apatosaurus skeleton ever discovered.  He called the digsite Carnegie Quarry.

For several years he was busy digging, excavating, documenting and shipping out fossil bones for the Carnegie Museum, which funded his efforts.  The original monument was established in 1915 to protect 80 acres in the quarry area.  Today, Dinosaur National Monument has increased its size to 210,000 acres, and not only is the quarry protected, but also the scenic canyons cut by the Green and Yampa rivers, and many cultural features left by ancient cultures.

Dinosaur National Monument

We didn’t know what to expect when we visited the quarry, since neither one of us are really into dinosaurs.  What we saw was a preserved cliff face enclosed within a large building and covered by hundreds of large fossilized dinosaur bones.  It was what remained of the ridge that Earl Douglass had excavated for 15 years.

Dinosaur National Monument

Timeline of how the quarry was discovered and later protected

Fossil Quarry Exhibit Hall Map

The brown area details the fossil quarry exhibit hall

Fossil Quarry, Dinosaur National Monument

The newly refurbished building

Inside the hall we saw fossilized bones embedded in a sloping rock formation.  From the plaques we learned it was once a sandbar on the edge of a large river.  As the river carried animal carcasses downstream, many became stuck on the sandbar, which eventually turned to rock.  As a result, fossils from hundreds of creatures were concentrated into a small area. The fossilized bones we saw were partially exposed and left intact in the rock.

Fossil Quarry Exhibit at Dinosaur National Monument

At the mezzanine

In 1923, Douglass recommended that the government leave the bones and skeletons in relief and house them.  He believed doing so would create “one of the most astounding and instructive sights imaginable.”  It took more than 30 years for his vision to become reality, but his assertion was correct – this place is truly unique.

Dinosaur National Monument

Ground floor level

We viewed approximately 1,500 fossilized bones from 100 individual dinosaurs and other ancient animals that make up the “logjam” on the quarry wall, including AllosaurusApatosaurusCamarasaurusDiplodicus, and Stegosaurus.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument

There were a few huge bones we were allowed to touch, this one almost as big as me!

There are two ways to get to the exhibit hall, shuttle bus or hike.  The hike would have allowed us to see more bones along the trail, but my current “bone issue” forced us to take the shuttle.

Back at the visitor center, the park rangers were running a special event titled “Safe Views of the Sun”.  It was excellent, and we were happy our timing was perfect to catch it.

Sun Viewing

Through the telescope we saw our star in real time, including some disturbances rising out of it that the ranger informed us were “prominences.”  Very cool!

The sun viewed from a

Although the quarry is the main attraction here, there are other unique features worth exploring.  With the help of the $1 auto guidebook we drove the 24-mile roundtrip scenic drive.  Features along the route include petroglyph and pictograph panels, Josie Bassett’s cabin built in 1913, and great views of geologic layers.  I snapped a few dramatic sceneries:

Split Mountain, Dinosaur National Monument

Split Mountain – geologists believe the Green River split this mountain

Green River, Dinosaur National Monument

The Green River was running high due to high temperatures and excessive snow melt

Dinosaur National Monument

Upturned rocks

Evidence of the Fremont people who lived here were displayed on rock ledges high above the road:

Josie Basset Morris was a homesteader and local legend who lived here for 50 years. Walking through her home and experiencing the beauty and solitude of her land got us to thinking about what life must have been like here over 100 years ago.

Turtle Rock, Dinosaur National Monument

Can you see the turtle on top? This is entrada sandstone, the same type of rock that formed the arches in Arches National Park

Quarry Exhibit Hall, Dinosaur National Monument

Quarry exhibit hall as seen from the scenic drive

Tilted Rock, Dinosaur National Monument

Tilted rocks seen from Hwy 40

And with that adventure completed we’re moving on to our last stop in Utah!


Next up:  This gorge is flaming!