Our Southern Utah Adventure

Our southern Utah adventure started with a couple of days spent in the southeastern part of the state. Probably the most well known place to visit there is Monument Valley but, given our time constraints, we had to save that for another time. I had seen pictures of the twisting, entrenched river meander visible from an overlook at Goosenecks State Park and that was an easily accessible stop to make after our day of driving from Albuquerque.

We also had enough time to drive down the road to Mexican Hat and then take the side road to a good view of the formation that gives the town its name.

Friday was the day set aside for hiking. With all of the options available it wasn’t easy to select one, knowing what we would have to pass up. The weather helped us make a decision. Deserts and mesas would be too hot so we headed to the mountains.

Not far from Blanding, several access roads lead into the Manti-La Sal National Forest, close to the controversial Bears Ears formation. We thought we had picked an isolated area for our hike, but after driving a winding dirt road up the mountains to the trailhead we were surprised to find a large group of people setting up booths and tents. We had stumbled upon the Annual Summer Gathering of the Native peoples who have ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region. It was interesting to talk to them and get an understanding of the issues involved.

The first hike we attempted was on a trail so overgrown that, even after several times backtracking, we never found what we thought would be a trail into Kigalia Canyon. We drove further up the road and had better luck finding a couple of other trails that lead into Hammond Canyon. But by then we didn’t have enough time to go too far into the canyon.

Spring in Kigalia Canyon
Hammond Canyon
View of Bears Ears formation on drive back from hiking

As we left Blanding on Friday, heading to Cedar City in southwestern Utah, we drove the loop road through Natural Bridges National Monument. At the stop for the last of the three Bridges we walked the trail that led under the impressive stone structure.

Sipapu Bridge at Natural Bridges.

By lunchtime we were driving through Capital Reefs National Park. We ate at the picnic area near the Visitors Center and stopped for a couple of scenic viewpoints but then it was time to get back on the road.

Capital Reefs National Park.

The main attraction for our week in Utah awaited us in Cedar City. We had five days to spend enjoying hiking (me and Lee) and biking (Aaron and Ruth) trails. Not to mention just the fun of being together for the week.

We found time to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, and several areas in the Dixie National Forest.

One of the overlooks on our hike at Cedar Breaks.
I was amazed at the size and abundance of Bristlecone Pine trees.
A hike at Northgate Peaks in the northern section of Zion.
Hike in Kolob Canyons area, also in northern section of Zion.
Overlook that we hiked to in Pine Valley section of Dixie National Forest.
One of my favorite rock formations–reminds me of ET.
Cascade Falls Trail in Dixie National Forest.
Looking towards Zion from Virgin River Rim Trail.

Today as we head back to New Mexico we will make one more stop at another of the southern Utah wonders we have always wanted to visit–Bryce Canyon National Park.

Tucumcari Tonight!

Driving west through Amarillo on Interstate 40, just as we made it past the city traffic, there was the billboard I’d seen many times over the years at various points along the interstate–Tucumcari Tonight! And today that was actually going to be our stop for the night.

Since Tucumcari is less than 200 miles from Albuquerque, it has never made sense in previous travels to stay overnight there. But with some extra time built in this week on our drive from Michigan to New Mexico, Lee planned a Texas side trip to explore Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. From Elk City, Oklahoma, where we had spent the night, the lake was a 2-hour drive west and then north. It wasn’t too far out of our way, since after visiting the lake, it was less than 40 miles to drop down to Amarillo and get back on the interstate. And then it’s just 100 miles to Tucumcari, leaving plenty of time for a hike at the lake.

We found a nice trail that went through a canyon and along a mesa. There were good views of the lake, which is a large reservoir on the Canadian River. When Lee suggested the visit to Lake Meredith I had imagined that it would be a flat, featureless landscape like the other parts of the Texas Panhandle. I was pleasantly surprised at the interesting geologic features and the lush greenery along the trail.

Tomorrow we will have time to check out either or both Ute Lake State Park and Conchas Lake State Park in New Mexico. Even if put together, those two lakes would be a fraction of the size of Lake Meredith. I don’t think there will be trails to hike but we haven’t been to either one so as long as we are in the area we might as well drive by. Who knows if we’ll ever get another chance to visit Tucumcari. There doesn’t seem to be much here except a whole lot of motels. No wonder there are so many Tucumcari Tonight billboards.