Where: enjoying a last couple weeks of vacation before we start our summer job. Current Stop: Southwest Utah
With a perpetually overplanning wife, JJ posed what seemed to be a very simple question to me once we landed in the shadows of Bear’s Ears, America’s newest National Monument: “So, what are we doing this week?” For once, I didn’t really have an answer. Every now and then, I just don’t get around to planning certain parts of our travels, and then we find ourselves in no internet land. So, we presented ourselves at the nearby Ranger Station, proclaimed ourselves Trail of the Ancient virgins, and asked for guidance.
We were in San Juan County, a part of Utah with a particularly dense archeological record. While all of Southern Utah has tons of ruins dating from 12,000 years ago and onward, San Juan figures there are about 32,000 unique sites in its borders. The landscape is a maze of canyons through mesatops, and most have some form of human history. The problem isn’t so much finding something to do, but deciding what, out of the million options, would be the best. The ranger didn’t even have to think before she had an answer for us: “Moonhouse!”
Moonhouse is an extremely well preserved Anasazi structure that was built in the mid-1200s, and abandoned before 1300. The most striking feature is the panels of stark white moons in all their phases, running around the tops of many rooms. Unlike other ruins I’ve been to, we were allowed to enter the structure, and walk along a corridor that opened into more rooms. The outside wall had little holes through it that seem to have served a defensive function, as they allow you to both remain concealed and also see every part of the canyon.
This treasure is closely regulated, and only 20 permits are given out for each day. I feel really lucky that we had the chance to see something so amazing!
A bit tricky going, with no real trail:
Up and down the canyon, as far as we could see, were more:
Another highlight of the areas was Natural Bridges National Monument, which, coincidentally, was Utah’s first National Monument. Here, the water has danced with sandstone to create enormous bridges of rock. While you can park at each of the three bridges for a short walk, we decided to take the loop trail which follows the canyon floor between the giants. We loved the solitude of the loop trail, and the chance to “discover” a complex of ruins and a giant panel of handprints. This small park was wonderful!
Some parts were a bit steep:
Cave Tower Ruins were a beautiful enigma perched on the edge of a spring and deep, twisty canyon. These seven structures could have been ceremonial, or for food storage, or defense.
We could spend a year in Southern Utah alone, but it was time to start heading west. Our next stop was Capitol Reef National Park, which I’m sorry to say, just didn’t do much for me. The scenery was gorgeous, of course, but something didn’t click, and I was ready to leave after one day there. I’m guessing that most of this sentiment has to do with the fact that it was the very busiest season, and we were in the most heavily trafficked areas. It’s the kind of park that is best suited to a backcounty trip, on foot or by Jeep, to access the wild, quiet areas. I will always take a fairly attractive area, devoid of people, over the most stunning view with a string of harried tourists just trying to get the damn picture and then get back to the car. I appreciate a range of beauty, but the anxious bustle of too many people only detracts from the scenery and makes me feel unsettled, too.
We’re now in travel mode, and starting to head west more quickly, with only a few stops. Our spring break is coming to an end!
PS: And an update on our summer jobs at Rock Creek Lake Resort in Bishop, CA…which we’ll start on Wednesday! The owner’s friend came up with some heavy machinery and cleared out large areas of the resort parking lot, and the long driveway to the rental cabins. Barring another big snow, we’ll move our RV to the resort on Tuesday, and get right to work cleaning cabins, setting up the store, and trying to remember how to breathe at 10,000 feet.
PPS: May 1 marks our 3 year “nomadiversary”!