Picturesque plaza in town of Ely

Trek to Canyonlands National Park

My husband Vern and I decided to head out this May in our motorhome ‘Thor’ and our Jeep ‘Axle’ across the Nevada Desert on Highway 50.

Aptly dubbed ‘The Loneliest Highway in America’, our favorite part is the stretch from Austin to Ely in Nevada. The road climbs over mountain passes and stretches across some of the most desolate, yet beautiful high desert in America. You can drive for ages and not come across a single car. No matter how many times we travel across it, this road always presents new vistas.

The town of Eureka has a picturesque little plaza featuring Highway 50 and the town’s early history:

picturesque plaza in town of Eureka

We camped along the way and hooked up with Highway 70 through Utah’s beautiful Castle Valley country. Eventually we found ourselves at Moab, Utah right next to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Arches National Park is stunning with its whimsical landforms, some so silly and absurd you expect them to be cartoons:

South Window Area, Arches
South Window area, Arches
Fiery Furnace, Arches – don’t go in here alone!  It live up to its name.
Fiery Furnace, Arches – don’t go in here alone! It live up to its name.

But Arches is very popular and often crowded to the point of frustration. Since we had been there before we decided to trek onward toward Canyonlands National Park, about 30 miles NW of Moab and Arches.

Canyonlands was first established in 1964. Over 337,000 acres/1366 square km., this vast wilderness spans a huge portion of the Green and the Colorado rivers. There are several different districts in the park: The Needles, The Maze, The Canyonlands Rivers, and Island in The Sky. We had been to The Needles years before, but this was our first trip to Island in The Sky. We spent a day touring the rim with spectacular vistas:

Canyonlands National Park
White Rim Road from Grandview Point
Gooseneck Bend
Gooseneck Bend
Dead Horse Point Area
Dead Horse Point Area

There are many access points taking you down into the canyons on hiking trails and roads. Our little Jeep, Axle, performed admirably on the steep switchback trails leading deep into the labyrinth of canyons. Our goal was to traverse the White Rim Road, which winds along a rocky ledge above the rivers for over 100 miles. This road was initially created in the late 19th century as a means of herding sheep and cattle along the river bottomlands. It takes several days to complete the entire circuit.  A permit is required to travel on this route.

Vern at Musselman Arch
Vern at Musselman Arch
Pinnacle stacks at Musselman Arch, Canyonlands
Pinnacle stacks at Musselman Arch, Canyonlands
Vern at an overlook with our cool Cliq chairs, Canyonlands National Park.
Vern at an overlook with our cool Cliq chairs, Canyonlands National Park. These chairs fold up into a little carrying case the size of a handbag!

After our off-road adventure we headed to Monument Valley in Arizona. We had hoped the Navajo Tribal Park would be open, but it was still closed due to COVID. We booked a room at The View Hotel where we were at least able to see the most beautiful section of the park from above:

Navajo Tribal Park
Navajo Tribal Park

A word of caution about Monument Valley that you don’t hear about in the tourism books: a fine, silty layer of red dust constantly sweeps all over the area and settles on everything in sight. Maybe all those early 20th Century westerns kicked all the dust loose and it is still settling almost 100 years later. If we stood still too long we would have been buried in red dust!

If you plan a trip here, book a day visit with a Navajo guide so you can explore the entire area in a 4WD truck, going into restricted areas you cannot visit on your own.

We departed Monument Valley and traveled to Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. Colorful, towering rock and dome formations carved by wind and water, arches, natural bridges, petroglyphs, and more line this 60 mile-long geologic park.  This must be the place where the Roadrunner cartoons were inspired. A land of impossibly-silly landscapes greets you here: sinuous gooseneck river bends, ridiculous drop offs, and dizzying switchbacks greet the traveler at every turn in the road.

Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park.  Photo by Vernon McHenry
Hickman Bridge at Capitol Reef National Park.  Photo by Vernon McHenry

When we came here 15 years ago no one had heard of the place, but it is so popular today that camping is hard to find. We were able to ‘boondock’ camp just beyond the western park border in a large US Forest Service pull out. We were fortunate enough to get a place with a beautiful view:

Axle and Thor ‘Boondocking” just outside Capitol Reef

We had planned to go on to Grand Staircase Escalante but the weather was turning hot, hot, hot, so we decided to save this for a winter trip and head home. We congratulated ourselves on a road trip well-done!

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