November 26, 2016: Utah´s Loneliest Corner
Waking up in Dolores, Colorado on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, my dad and I were in the middle of our Four Corners Thanksgiving road trip. So far, we have explored the San Juan Mountains and the mesalands of Southwest Colorado. Today, our goal was to explore the Utah side of the Four Corners.
From Dolores, we drove northwest then southwest through the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, stopping briefly at the Lowry Pueblo and its unique ancient kiva-a round room used for rituals. Like all the sites in the region, the Lowry Pueblo was occupied until a mass abandonment around the year 1300.
After 50 miles of nothingness, we crossed a cattle guard and the road suddenly got worse- a sign that we reached Utah. 2 more minutes of driving led us to Hovenweep National Monument.
Hovenweep is shockingly remote, which adds to its intrigue. The site contains ancient structures built atop a small canyon by the Anasazi peoples between the years 1,000 and 1300. Unlike the other pueblos we have seen so far at Mesa Verde, Yucca House, and Lowry, these structures are towers in the range of 12-20 feet tall.
A two-mile hike from the visitor center leads to all the towers in the main area, called the Square Tower Group. There are a few other towers that require a high clearance car that we decided not to visit.
From Hovenweep, we headed west. For the next 50 miles we saw no other cars. The road briefly ducked into a badlands-like canyon, but otherwise it was a continuation of the plains in Colorado.
Eventually, we reached the aptly named 1 stoplight town of Blanding for lunch. On the north end, there was a surprisingly cute place called the Patio Drive-In. Among their menu options was a burger called the Big B. We both ordered one and the server rang a bell! Apparently Big B was named for the former owner of the restaurant who died about a month ago. Nice to see the place is still up and running. The burger and shake were both delicious.
We then set our sights further west along Utah Route 95. The road cut south along a swell of white rock before cutting through to reveal a stunning vista of red cliffs and dry river canyons.
Another beautiful 30 minutes brought us to the remote Natural Bridges National Monument. Natural bridges look very similar to arches but are distinct geologic formations. Bridges are formed across a canyon by a current of water aka a river or stream, while an arch is often formed from a rock wall by wind or heavy rains.
Natural Bridges National Monument has 3 natural bridges. They are accessed by an 8-mile loop road. The road leads to viewpoints of all three, where you can hike down to the bridges. The hikes are relatively short- no more than 2 miles.
The first bridge we reached was Sipapu, the second longest natural bridge in the world after Rainbow Bridge in Lake Powell. The landscape looked pre-historic.
I decided to hike down. The trail involved a lot of steps cut into the rock and a ladder. The result was an amazing close-up of the bridge.
The second bridge, Kachina, had a very long trail down so in the interest of time, we stayed at the overlook.
The third bridge, Owachomo, only had a quarter-mile trail down, so my dad and I decided to hike it. We were followed by an old cowboy with at least 10 NRA stickers on his truck. We had a nice chat about staying fit despite old age. At the bottom, we took some pictures and got his wife to take pictures of us since he didn’t know how to work an iPhone.
It was now 3pm and we were determined to make it to our final stop by nightfall at 5. From Natural Bridges, we headed down the Utah 261. After 25 miles of a nice road, we reached the edge of a mesa.
Here, the road turned to dirt and wound its way down the mesa. This famous stretch of road is called the Moki Dugway.
At the bottom, we saw a work-truck that is most likely permanently stationed there to clear the road from rockfall. The rockfall danger is mostly likely the reason the road is still dirt- it’s expensive and time consuming to keep fixing potholes in a road that can never truly be fixed.
The land at the bottom of the Moki Dugway is blaze red- like the surface of Mars. Nearby, there is a town called Mexican Hat- that I have seen on many maps. The town is named for a red rock formation nearby that indeed looks like a sombrero.
From Mexican Hat, we crossed the San Juan River and entered the Navajo Nation.