Roadtrippin’ the Wild, Wild West

September 15th, 2016

The pops and I decided to take our hiking adventures out of state.  Like far, far out of state.  We planned a week long road tripping and hiking adventure through Utah and Colorado.  I’m just gonna break this down day by day so y’all can get a better understanding.

Day One:  We thought it would be the best idea ever to leave at 10 pm the night of the 14th and drive all night and the next day.  And of course we didn’t want to take the more direct route, we wanted scenic.  I really wanted to make this a photojournalistic trip.  Our plan was for me to sleep the first part of the trip and take over around OKC and drive to Amarillo.  That would give me about 5 or so hours of sleep.  Well of course being an insomniac and plus I really can’t sleep if it’s not in MY bed, the back seat of our rental was not an ideal sleeping situation.  I maybe nodded off for about 3 hours and woke up about an hour before the Texas border.  I gave pops a break and drove the rest of the way to our first destination, being Amarillo.  I really wanted to see Cadillac Ranch at sunrise.  By leaving at 10 pm the night before, it put us in Amarillo at 5:30….a whole two hours before sunrise.  We stopped at a Denny’s to eat breakfast and mostly down a bunch of coffee.  We parked the car at the Cadillac Ranch RV park and waited another hour for sunrise.  We were the first ones parked at the entrance when the sun began to peek over the horizon.  On this particular morning it was storming off in the distance and the cloud coverage was thick.  This meant an even longer wait for Cadillac Ranch to light up, but once it did I was in awe.  We even brought our own spray paint to tag the graffitied vehicles.

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After now tacking on 2 1/2 hours to our already 16 hour driving day we headed North.  I kept driving to let the pops sleep some more, because let’s face it.  He was going to be the main driver on this trip.  I drive like a grandma and if I stayed the navigator it would’ve taken another day to get to our first destination.  Watching the sunrise over the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle was beautiful despite the barren, flat landscape that is the panhandle.  Pops took over driving and I hopped in the back seat of the SUV and slept another couple of hours, putting my total hours of sleep at 5 in the last 28 hours.  Did I mention I don’t function unless I get a full 8 hours?  He woke me up when we pulled into the Capulin Volcano park.  I was too tired to take it all in and tried to take some photos out the window with no avail.  We headed on in to the Raton Pass and up to Colorado.  Our journey westward continued from here.  Our initial plan was to hike Zapata Falls, but when we got to the turnoff and knew it would tack on a couple more hours we said heck no.  After several more hours of me being a zombie we stopped at Treasure Falls for our first hike on our trip.  Being totally sleep deprived and in higher altitude than down here in the River Valley of Arkansas, it took me a minute to get my bearings.  We hiked the short trail to the falls and I took some photos even though the sun was too harsh on the falls.  All I wanted at this point was a hot meal, shower and a bed.

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We arrived at our hotel in Cortez, Colorado around 8 pm.  That meant a total of 22 hours in a car that first day.  Ugh.  Seeing how Cortez doesn’t have much but one hotel with an adjoining restaurant we didn’t have to venture far.  Insomnia was not a problem this night.

Day 2:  We woke up and hit the road again heading West.  Our first stop, Four Corners.  We spent an hour or so here taking photo ops on the keystone and buying tchotchkes and such.  Our next stop was Monument Valley.  The drive there from Four Corners was incredible.  Huge rock formations randomly placed in fields as far as you could see.  We would drive for hours and still seem the same formations shapeshifting as we drove past them.  We arrived at Monument Valley around 1:30 anticipating our next hike on the Wildcat Trail.  However upon inspecting signage, the trail was closed.  Apparently someone had passed away from heat exhaustion in the previous month.  This was honestly a godsend since I was still exhausted.  We drove the 20 miles north to Mexican Hat, Utah and checked into our hotel and relaxed until our personal photo tour that began at 5:30.  We met up with Larson, our spirit guide and photo guru, so I could get an unclose and personal tour of the reservation as well as Harvest Moon shots over the desert.  After the tour was over we headed back into Mexican Hat and ate at the one restaurant in the town, The Swinging Steak.  I have never seen such a sight.  Imagine an outdoor restaurant with a bonfire in the middle.  Now put a bbq grill grate on swinging arms and watch your food get cooked while the grill swung over the flames.  The only protein options were steak or hamburger.  Made our order easy.  This was a very interesting way to end our second day.

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Day 3:  Pops had heard of a driving tour through the Valley of the Gods a few miles north of Mexican Hat.  So of course we took it.  If I’ve ever had an existential moment, this was it.  To say it was mesmerizing is an understatement.  It was the most surreal, yet grounding moment I’ve ever had.  Giant rock formations hovering over you and changing shape with each passing moment; breathtaking is all I can say.  If you are ever in this area and you don’t take the 10 mile drive, pardon my expression, but you’re an idiot.  Moving on.  Once we exited the dirt road our only way to Moab at this point was up.  Up the rock wall on a road called the Moki Dugway.  This was a one lane dirt road at best that had so many switchbacks up this miles long rock wall, I couldn’t keep count.  Oh, and no guardrails.  My anxiety switched into hyperdrive at this point.  The views could not be beat.  The entire drive looked over the Valley of the Gods.  We finally made it up and around!  Hallelujah.

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With our scenic tours we made it to Moab around 5.  Our first stop was Arches and by this point in the evening we got free admission.  Boo-yah.  We did the short hike to the Delicate Arch lookout and climbed up a rock spine to get a better view.  We wanted to do the Delicate Arch trail but you could see people lined up at least 50 deep for their one photo op in front of it.  Looked a little too touristy for my taste.  Come to find out, Aches National Park is just touristy all together.  There wasn’t a single trail that would be considered desolate or not heavily trafficked.  We drove around for awhile following our Google skymap to see where the moon would be rising so I could get some more (almost) full moon shots with my telephoto lens.  We thought we found the perfect spot and set up camp and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  By 9 pm and the moon still hadn’t made it’s appearance over the mountainous horizon we recalibrated the skymap and realized due East was not where we were.  We literally drove around the rock formations to the valley view and there it was.  Full moon in all it’s glory.  I was in the wrong spot for the photo.  😦  But we still got some great pictures of the park for our first day.

Day 4:  We woke up bright and early to tackle Arches again.  However, upon arriving the line was so long.  At least a 30 minute wait just to enter the park.  We decided to check out Potash Road.  We took a short trail up to some dinosaur tracks.  Looked more like spray painted giant bird print to me, but whatever.  We headed on down Potash Road to the Corona and Bowtie Arch.  The trail was very neat!  There were several spots that had thick wire as guardrails to help you along some steeper areas.  We also had to use the same guardrail system to climb straight up a rock face as well as climb a ladder.  There was no shade from the blaring desert sun except under a bit of a grotto.  We foraged on to the Bowtie Arch and finally to the Corona Arch and chilled in the arch shade for a bit.

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We left about lunchtime, grabbed a quick bite and headed back to Arches.  We chose to do one of the more popular trails with the most arches, Devil’s Garden.  On this trail we saw several arches including Landscape Arch.  When the trail went from easy to difficult, meaning I had to climb up a rock spine to get to the rest of the arches, I bailed.   I don’t do heights.  Especially if there’s nothing to catch me on either side if I make one wrong step.  I wasn’t alone.  Several others weren’t willing to do it either.

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We left this trailhead and before sunset rushed to see two of the easiest to get to arches, Sandstone and Broken Arch.  It was a quick, flat one mile frolic through a field.  On our way out of the park we also made a quick pitstop at Double Arch.  I really wish we had allocated more time here to explore, but we had to move on to higher elevations.  Next day, Colorado.

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Day 5:  We headed back east towards Colorado.  Our first destination being Aspen.  Along the way we stopped at North Lake and then Glenwood Springs to hike Hanging Lake.  When I say this hike was straight up, it was straight.  Up.  I made every excuse to photograph the many cascades of the Dead Horse Creek that I could just to take a breather.  The trail is so high up it warns you about elevation sickness.  Luckily I did not succumb to that and we finally made it to Hanging Lake.  This beautiful small lake literally hangs off the side of a mountain and has the quaintest waterfall I’ve ever seen.  It was getting closer to dinner time and we still had a small drive into Aspen.  Let me tell you, the hike down was a heck of a lot easier.

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Day 6:  We woke up super early to get to Maroon Bells before sunrise.  Otherwise we would’ve had to park several miles away and be shuttled in by bus.  This is a very popular spot at sunrise for photographers and I see why.  I lined up on the beach with all the other photogs and waited for the sun to rise above the mountains to illuminate the Maroon Bells and cast the mirror reflection onto the lake.  Most others gave up after an hour or so, but I persevered in the chilly Rockies air until that perfect moment.  The reflections were astounding.  I had never seen anything like this before.  Up in the high elevation and cool air the Aspen trees were already changing color.  It was my first taste of Fall.  We left here and headed up to Independence Pass, on to the Continental Divide and on to Colorado Springs.  Our goal is Colorado Springs was to hike Garden of the Gods.  It is surprisingly a city park and we assumed they closed around 5, so we hightailed it there.  Come to find out they didn’t close the park until 9 pm so we had plenty of time to do the hiking trail along the back side of the park.  Ominous clouds hung over the huge rock walls and we watched a lot of crazy folks rock climbing.  We spent several hours here before heading out.

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Day 7:  Driving home day.  This time we chose the direct path.  Through the Colorado and Kansas high plains.  Boring.  Yawn.  14 hours later we arrived back.  Exhausted.  Enlightened.

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