Arches National Park
In the planning stages for our Utah trip, I had factored in an extra day in case we missed something on our must-see list. Although it made for a long day, we unanimously agreed that the five-hour-round-trip drive to Monument Valley would be worth it.
The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park straddles the Utah-Arizona border and has been on our list for quite some time. We rose at 5:00 a.m., collected our daypacks, and headed south to the park. The entire Navajo reservation covers one-third of the Colorado Plateau, sits at 5,564 feet above sea level, and encompasses about ninety-two thousand acres. The monuments range in height from one hundred to fifteen hundred feet and they lie in a valley “where the earth meets the sky.”
Buses and RVs are not allowed on the seventeen-mile unpaved valley drive. There are pullouts or viewpoints along the entire route and a one-way loop on the return leg of the drive. So don’t assume you will be able to take photos of anything you missed driving in, as you will not be passing the same landscape settings or monuments driving out unless you repeat the loop. There are Navajo jeep tours, a great way to see the park, and the guides are a wealth of information—or so I’ve been told.
After our self-guided drive, we stopped at The View Restaurant for lunch and to snap shots of the valley from their outdoor patio. The park also has a hotel. For more information about the accommodations at Monument Valley, visit: http://monumentvalleyview.com/premium-cabins/.
On our way back into Moab, we had to pass the entrance to Arches National Park. A highway sign said the park was at capacity and to try again later. We had made the right decision to see Arches on our drive into Moab rather than to wait until the last day of our vacation. By then the holiday crowds would’ve definitely been out in full force.
For dinner we ordered takeout from Arches Thai and had crispy duck with cashew nuts and red curry with beef.
Initially, we planned to leave our visit to Arches National Park to the last day of our vacation, but we arrived early in the Moab area, and seeing only two cars at the park entrance, we changed our minds.
Our Arches tour was a combined walking and driving visit. The summer crowds were already appearing and the park was filling with American visitors, as well as several foreign group tours. Even this early in the day, parking at certain viewpoints and pullouts required a wait. We circumvented the issue by passing up full overlooks in favor of seeing those on the return trip. When we reached Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint, we zipped into the last space in the parking lot, thanks to an eagle-eyed park ranger who flagged us down.
While I would’ve loved to have hiked Devils Garden Trail, all 7.2 miles of this most difficult and longest of the trails in the park, we stuck to the short hikes—Park Avenue, Windows Trail, Double Arch, Skyline Arch, and Balanced Rock saving the garden for a future visit.
To think this stark, colorful terrain was once completely under water. The park itself lies atop an underground salt bed. Water, ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement have sculpted the landscape, and all are responsible for the arches, spires, balanced rocks, and sandstone fins seen throughout the park.
By late afternoon, the crowds had grown considerably as the Memorial Day weekend approached, the busiest weekend for Utah’s national parks, with Labor Day close behind. We snapped off our last series of photos and dumped our daypacks in the rental, ready for dinner.
We checked into the Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn and immediately zeroed in on our dinner spot—Arches Thai for “authentic” Thai food. The restaurant does a bustling business, both dining in and taking out, and was a stone’s throw from our hotel. We ordered the crispy duck in a sweet and sour sauce and chicken in yellow curry sauce. Yummy.